Cuba May Day parade defies Trump over Maduro support

Havana (AFP) –


The scent of the Cold War hung over Cuba's May Day parade where marchers bellowed defiance against US President Donald Trump for his threats to punish the Communist-run island's support for Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro by extending the six-decade US embargo.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans turned out in the capital Havana, many of them gathering on Revolution Square from before dawn under the still-illuminated giant mural of Che Guevara.

The atmosphere crackled with Cold War-era defiance. Communist Party chief Raul Castro was joined in the reviewing stand by the visiting Russian Communist Party vice president, Ivan Melnikov.

"We're here given the current context in Cuba, in Latin America, which is increasingly under threat from US imperialism," 27-year-old student leader Heidy Villuendas told AFP as she marched.

"We're also here in response to the US embargo against Cuba, to the threats faced by Venezuela, a nation of people to whom we affirm our solidarity, our commitment," said Villuendas.

- Words of defiance -

President Miguel Diaz-Canel, who took over when Castro stepped down a year ago, set the tone for the parade with a tweet responding to Trump's latest threats.

"We will give a strong, firm and revolutionary response to the threatening statements and provocations, the lies and slanders of the Yankee empire," Diaz-Canel wrote.

"Cuba confirms that we are free sovereign, independent and socialist," he tweeted.

In his white traditional guayabera shirt, Diaz-Canel took his place early in the reviewing stand.

But the parade didn't begin until his 87-year-old predecessor Raul Castro -- Communism's equivalent of royalty -- arrived to take his place.

Even then, there were no speeches -- unlike in previous years. Instead, Revolution Square resounded with the recorded voice of the father of the revolution, Fidel Castro, who died in 2016.

The message, designed to reassure a country facing tough times, was an excerpt from Castro's 2001 May Day speech. The revolution, he said, was "changing everything that must be changed."

- Trump's threats -

Trump took aim in his latest tirade against Cuba on Tuesday, pressing Havana to end its support of Socialist ally Venezuela, and warning it will otherwise face a "full and complete" embargo and sanctions.

"If Cuban Troops and Militia do not immediately CEASE military and other operations for the purpose of causing death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela, a full and complete embargo, together with highest-level sanctions, will be placed on the island of Cuba," Trump tweeted.

"Hopefully, all Cuban soldiers will promptly and peacefully return to their island."

Diaz-Canel fired back on Tuesday, accusing Trump of a "dangerous escalation" of the situation in Venezuela and insisting there were no Cuban troops there.

Washington has stepped up a war of words with Havana in recent months, announcing a raft of measures aimed at crippling foreign investment.

They include activating a long-dormant law which allows lawsuits in US courts against companies operating in properties seized by the revolution.

- Carnival atmosphere -

The march was held in a carnival atmosphere, with many people carrying toddlers on their shoulders. Some waved giant portraits of Fidel Castro.

Others had posters featuring Trump's image with a brick in his eye.

"I am here to support the revolution and this president, in memory of Fidel, and Raul who has shown us that unity allows us to face the problems and sanctions of the United States or anyone," said Julio Gonzalez, an electrician.

Soldiers closed out the march, singing a song dedicated to the communist youth of Cuba.

Dressed in olive green army fatigues, a beret on his head, 32-year-old Interior ministry officer Guillermo Aguilar said Cuba was accustomed to US aggression.

"It is a war that we are always facing, an aggression that we are used to and for which we are prepared and will continue to be prepared, and to continue fighting always with the people."