By Dave Sherwood
HAVANA (Reuters) – Cubans poured onto the streets in celebration of International Worker’s Day on Sunday, the first such parade since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, touting fluttering flags, posters of former leader Fidel Castro and chanting “Cuba Lives and Works.”
Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel and former revolutionary leader Raul Castro, wearing a white mask and dressed in hallmark military fatigues, oversaw the rallies from a stage overlooking Havana’s “Plaza de la Revolucion.”
The marches, held each year across the Communist-run country prior to the pandemic, are rife with symbolism, a celebration of the 63-year-old Cuban revolution, but also, a government-led rebuke of the Cold War-era embargo imposed on the island by the United States.
Juana Garcia, a worker with the Cuban Institute for Philosophy who waved a small Cuban flag on a wooden stick, said the march had far exceeded her expectations, a show of solidarity for the cause, she said.
“Despite so many difficulties, the majority of Cubans support the revolutionary process. We Cubans work to fix our own problems. We do not want interference of any kind,” she said.
The rallies this year were also the first since anti-government protests on July 11 – the largest since Castro’s 1959 revolution – rocked the nation, a major test of the island’s first non-Castro led government since the start of the revolution.
There was no official estimate by mid-day of how many had marched during the early morning rallies.
Cuba, a Caribbean island of 11 million, is suffering through a grinding economic crisis that has led to food and medicine shortages and has prompted a mass exodus to its northern neighbor, the United States.
Upwards of 80,000 have left the island in recent months for the United States, according to Customs and Border Protection data, making their way by plane to Nicaragua and then overland north to the U.S./Mexico border, or by boat or raft across the Florida Straits.
Cuba’s government blames the United States trade embargo and tightened sanctions for the suffering. The United States, meanwhile, has long alleged Cuba communist leadership has mismanaged the economy.
(Reporting by Dave Sherwood in Havana; Additional reporting by Mario Fuentes; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)