14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 2 January 2017 — The military parade this Monday for the 60th anniversary of the creation of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces concluded without the traditional display of antiaircraft rockets, armored tanks and heavy artillery. The martial parade, presided over by Raúl Castro, prioritized the display of troops over any display of military hardware.
Still sleepy after the holiday season, many Havanans were awakened by the noise of the salvos launched from the Plaza of the Revolution. With that signal, at barely seven in the morning, the first military parade after the death of former President Fidel Castro began, in a city paralyzed by the closing of streets and the gigantic mobilization.
The display of military force comes at a difficult time for the country’s economy. The recently concluded session of the National Assembly has confirmed that GDP fell 0.9% in 2016, and forecasts for 2017 are also not favorable, a context that has increased people’s criticism of the waste represented by this Monday’s military parade.
Thousands of uniformed soldiers marched in lockstep steps, along with elementary school students with their neckerchiefs and workers from different sectors under the motto “I am Fidel.”
“They threw the house out the window,” complained Raymundo, a pensioner who collects empty cans near the National Hotel to sell them as a raw material and feels that “the way things are right now, better to save even the last centavo.”
A little more than a mile away, thousands of uniformed soldiers marched in lockstep, along with elementary school students with their neckerchiefs and workers from different sectors under the motto “I am Fidel.”
The result was a peculiar combination of troops and civilians, a mixture of military parade and people’s march that lasted for less time than in previous years, barely an hour and 40 minutes.
Raul Castro remained on the dais for the entire exercise, surrounded by senior government officials, but left the main speech to Jennifer Bello Martinez, president of the University Student Federation (FEU). The young woman, who has risen rapidly in officialdom, was named as a member of the Council of State in December 2015.
“No one can make us forget our history, nor the symbols of this people’s resistance,” bellowed Bello from the rostrum. She alluded to the words spoken by Barack Obama during his speech at the Gran Teatro in Havana last March when the US president said he knew the story of the long dispute between the Cuban and US Governments but refused to remain “trapped” in it.
Those who hoped that this Castro parade feature a proud display of military paraphernalia had to content themselves with some modernized AK47s and rifles with telescopic sight for the Special Troops. Apart from that, the Cuban Army barely showed its armament.
Long gone are the times when the country could allow itself, thanks to the free supply from the Soviet Union, to be the most well supplied armed forces among Latin American countries. The great military campaigns in Africa were also in the past, and the economic situation of the island barely allows them to maintain their obsolete means of combat.
Nevertheless, Cuba continues to spend a huge amount of resources sustaining its military apparatus. At the end of 2016, the Island ranked 79th in the list of military powers, according to the Global Firepower site, a privileged position in the Latin American context, where it is only surpassed by countries with much greater population and resources, such as Brazil, Mexico and Argentina.
At the end of 2016, the Island ranked 79th in the list of military powers according to the Global Firepower site, a privileged position in the Latin American context
In the absence of renewed armaments, officialdom has sharpened the level of ideological discourse in the last half year. A turn of the screw that has become more pronounced after the election of Donald Trump as president of the United States and the recent death of Fidel Castro.
The younger generations are the main target of this offensive.
The daughter of Damaris, 38, is a fifth grader in Las Timba neighborhood and was chosen to be part of the pioneers who surrounded the replica of the yacht Granma. “She had to go to the three trial runs at the end of December and today is the fourth time that she is in the Plaza for this activity,” says the woman.
The participation of the girl in the parade caused some clashes in the family. The mother did not want her to do it, but she does not want an absence to “single her out so early.” She acknowledges, however, that her grandfather is very proud she was chosen for the demonstration.
As they finished passing in front of the podium, the children hurried along and continued to a school on Ayestarán Street. There they shared a snack with soda, bread with a hot dog, and some goodies that revived them after a long sleepless night. “Now we’re going to bed because we’re dead,” confesses Damaris.