Castro celebrates 40 years in power

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The Independent Online
BATTERED BUT unbowed after 40 years in power, Fidel Castro will deliver a celebratory anniversary address tonight in the same square in Santiago de Cuba where he proclaimed victory over the dictator Fulgencio Batista on 1 January 1959.

The speech will be the climax of a week in which the Cuban state-run media has focused on the birth of the socialist regime, which has withstood 36 years of trade embargo from America and the collapse and disappearance of the Soviet Union, the island's protector and economic patron.

Amid continuing economic hardship and harsh state treatment of dissent, public feelings have been muted. But the media has had a field day, mocking Washington for the decades ofpredictions of Castro's demise, and publishing letters of congratulation from the Pope and leaders from around the world.

"Under your leadership," Cuba had achieved "new successes in the struggle to safeguard national independence ... and has persisted in the socialist path", the Chinese President, Jiang Zemin, wrote to Castro, one of the last Communist leaders and among the longest surviving rulers of any ideological persuasion.

Castro's triumph in the two- year civil war was sealed byErnesto "Che" Guevara's successful attack on the central city of Santa Clara on 28 December 1958, and by the almost simultaneous fall of Santiago de Cuba in the east of the island.

Since 1960, the regime has been under economic, and at times military attack from the US. But that very pressure has enabled him to draw upon Cuba's fierce nationalism for support. Long a hero in much of the Third World, Castro is now largely seen even by his own people as a man whose time is past. But, apart from periodic rumours about his health, he appears as firmly in control as ever.