Fifty years on, Cuba still in grip of revolution

Tue Dec 23, 2008 9:48am EST
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Fifty years after Fidel Castro led a band of rebels to victory over a U.S.-backed dictator, his revolution goes on, Cuba firmly in its grip, in what some view as a triumph and others a tragedy.

That it has survived may be its greatest accomplishment, given five decades of unstinting opposition and an economic embargo from the nearby United States.

Fidel Castro, 32 when he took power on January 1, 1959, has become a sick old man, many of his fellow Cold War leaders have died and Communism has almost disappeared around the world.

Yet Cuba's revolution continues and despite the desperate hopes of exiles on the other side of the Florida Straits, people on the Caribbean island see no end to its rule.

In February, Cuba managed a smooth succession of power when Raul Castro, 77, officially replaced his older brother as president. Fidel Castro, 82, has not been seen in public since undergoing intestinal surgery in July 2006, but is still thought to wield considerable power.

Fidel Castro and his rebels were greeted by ecstatic crowds when they rolled into Havana after chasing dictator Fulgencio Batista from power. But the early euphoria faded as Castro and the United States became locked in a Cold War showdown and he allied with the Soviet Union, imposing communism on Cuba.

The bitterness generated in those early years never went away as Castro opponents fled to Miami, unsuccessfully plotted his demise and waited in vain for the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against the island to topple him.

As the 50th anniversary of the revolution approaches and the government prepares modest celebrations for next week, Cubans are divided on whether it has all been worth it.   Continued...

<p>A man walks past a billboard with pictures of retired Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana August 12, 2008. REUTERS/Stringer</p>