Cuba told to expect more 'hard times'

Patrick Lescot

Patrick Lescot

SANTIAGO DE CUBA - Cuban President Raul Castro has told his compatriots to expect more hard times, but failed to usher in more reforms that many Cubans had been hoping for.

The speech on Saturday marked the 55th anniversary of the start of the communist revolution led by his brother and former president Fidel Castro, two years after Fidel's last public appearance.

"We're still short of many things we would like our people to enjoy . but no matter how hard we wish to resolve each problem, we can't spend more than what we have," 77-year-old Raul told an estimated crowd of 10000.

His speech, an echo of his address to lawmakers earlier this month, was given at the Moncada barracks - today a learning centre - from where he and his brother Fidel launched the communist revolution in 1953 that six years later would put them in power.

"We will continue to focus on defence, independently from the results of the US presidential elections," he said, referring to Cuba's neighbour and archenemy who is watchful of all Raul Castro's steps since he took over in February.

Standing under a huge portrait of his 82-year-old brother, Raul announced that Cuba will hold its "Bastion 2008" military exercises "with the utmost quality and rigour" in November to coincide with the US presidential election.

"Preparations to defend the country are going well," he said. - Sapa-AFP