Cuba marks 50 years of communism, party congress awaits

President Raul Castro, clad in his general's uniform and surrounded by senior officials, party congress delegates and war veterans, saluted soldiers as they marched through the Plaza de la Revolucion, the political heart of the country and in the shadow of its Communist Party headquarters.

Hundreds of thousands of other marching Cubans followed, including thousands of kid "pioneers" waving Cuban flags and chanting "Viva Fidel!" "Viva Raul!" "Long live the Revolution!"

The parade kicked off with a tribute to revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, 84, who officially handed the reins of power to his 79-year-old brother Raul in 2006 for health reasons.
Fidel did not attend the festivities yesterday, exactly half a century after he proclaimed the socialist character of the regime on the eve of the April 17, 1961 landing by 1,400 Cuban exiles armed and trained by the US Central Intelligence Agency.

Within just 72 hours of bloody combat on Playa Larga and Playa Giron 200 kilometers (124 miles) southeast of Havana, Castro had routed out the invaders in what Cuba celebrates as "the first great defeat of imperialism (as Cuba calls the United States) in Latin America."

A T-34 tank, cannons and other weapons used by Castro's forces 50 years ago were at the forefront of the military parade, the first since December 2006.

"To the United States, the message is clear," a university student leader said over a loudspeaker. "Young people will not fail because the work that we are building is for everyone. We will not fail because our guide was right."

At 2000 GMT, the regime was set to convene the Sixth Communist Party Congress —the nation's first in 16 years. The 1,000 delegates will, over four days, vote on economic reforms proposed by Raul Castro and officially relieve Fidel as party leader.

Fidel announced three weeks ago he had resigned the party leadership when he first took ill. The mantle is widely expected to pass to his brother, sources said. Fidel Castro has led the party since its founding in 1965.

The congress will elect a new 100-member Central Committee, as well as the more elite 19-member Politburo and 10-member Secretariat.

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