In a flamboyant celebration of communism designed to defy the United States, Fidel Castro presided over a May Day parade Wednesday with hundreds of thousands of marchers waving Cuban flags and carrying anti-American banners.
Cuba’s first full-blown May Day celebration in three years also was meant to show renewed confidence and resources as the country recovers from a disastrous economic crisis caused by the collapse of its socialist allies in Europe.
Patriotic music blasted from loudspeakers across the Plaza of the Revolution as Castro stood on a marble platform and peered through binoculars at the river of marchers. Above him was a 450-foot tower honoring Cuba’s independence hero Jose Marti.
For the past two years, only small neighborhood gatherings marked the traditional socialist and communist workers holiday, with officials saying there wasn’t enough fuel or transportation for a big celebration.
Cuban officials billed this year’s march as a rejection of the Helms-Burton Act that tightens the U.S. embargo of Cuba, and as a reaffirmation of Cuba’s communist principles.
Pedro Ross, the head of the Cuban labor movement, opened the march with the traditional cry of “Socialism or death! Fatherland or death! We will be victorious!”
Among the guests in the reviewing area were two figures from the Black Power movement of the 1960s and 70s: Kwame Ture - the former Stokely Carmichael - and Assata Shakur, the former Joanne Chesimard.
Shakur, a former member of the Black Liberation Army, was convicted of killing a New Jersey state trooper in 1973. She escaped from prison in 1979 and went to Cuba. Ture is in Cuba for cancer treatment.
In other May Day observances around the world:
Russian President Boris Yeltsin and his Communist rival, Gennady Zyuganov, held competing rallies in Moscow. Both predicted victory in the June 16 presidential election.
In Paris, about 12,000 far-right supporters led by National Front leader Jean-Marie Le Pen marched waving banners against immigration.
China marked the holiday with concerts, ceremonies and a call in the national press for all workers to contribute to its modernization drive. Schoolchildren and soldiers gathered at dawn in Beijing’s Tiananmen Square.