- The Washington Times - Monday, July 27, 2009

HOLGUIN, Cuba (AP) | Raul Castro said Sunday that the global economic crisis means tougher times ahead for Cuba, but the country has no one to blame but itself for poor farm production that leads to frequent shortages of fruits, vegetables and other basics.

In a speech marking Revolution Day, Cuba’s president said the island can’t pin all of its problems on Washington’s 47-year-old trade embargo. He implored Cubans to take better advantage of a government program begun last year to turn unused state land over to private farmers.

“The land is there; here are the Cubans,” he said, pounding the podium. “Let’s see if we get to work or not, if we produce or not, if we keep our word.”

The line did not get much of a response from a crowd, but the 78-year-old Mr. Castro called agricultural production Cuba’s top priority and a matter of national security.

“It is not a question of yelling ‘Fatherland or death! Down with imperialism! The blockade hurts us,’ ” he said, referring to U.S. sanctions begun in 1960. “The land is there waiting for our efforts.”

He made almost no other mention of the United States.

Three years since the last time his 82-year-old brother Fidel was seen in public, the younger Mr. Castro showed signs he is getting more comfortable with national addresses, opening with a joke about how whoever designed the stage failed to provide any shade for the speaker or the crowd. He later harpooned his own Agricultural Ministry, asking how previous Cuban generations managed to ever grow even a single mango tree if all state advisers do today is say there’s no money for reforestation.

Tens of thousands of supporters, most wearing red T-shirts or caps, filled a grassy plaza dotted with red and black “July 26” flags. Revolution Day, the top holiday for the communist government, commemorates the date in 1953 when the Castros led an attack on the Moncada army barracks in the eastern city of Santiago.

The attack was a disaster, but Cubans consider it the beginning of the revolution that culminated with dictator Fulgencio Batista’s ouster on New Year’s Day 1959.

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