Raul Castro celebrates Cuban independence, honors revolutionary leaders

Cuban President Raul Castro on Saturday commemorated the 123rd anniversary of Cuba's War of Independence from Spain, and decorated three of the most senior leaders of the 1959 Revolution.

At a ceremony held in Havana's Capitol building, home of the National Assembly, Castro recalled the day national hero Jose Marti relaunched the independence struggle on Feb. 24, 1895, which eventually freed Cuba from Spanish rule.

In a rare speech, Castro highlighted Marti's determination. In the face of what seemed like insurmountable setbacks, he found alternatives and rallied people together.

"Marti appealed to national unity, articulated the best traditions of the past, without leaving out any of those who were willing to sacrifice and give their lives for a greater cause," Castro said.

Castro also bestowed the title of "Work Hero of the Republic" on three revolutionary veterans who fought alongside Fidel Castro and himself to overthrow dictator Fulgencio Batista: Jose Ramon Machado, current second secretary of the Communist Party, and commanders of the revolution Ramiro Valdes and Guillermo Garcia.

"As a common characteristic of these three liberators of our time, I can cite their loyalty to the revolution and Fidel, their dedication to work, modesty and humility, which have made them worthy of the recognition and the respect of Cubans," Castro said.

Valdes, 85, and Garcia, 90, are the only revolutionary commanders still alive today. Machado, 87, served as the country's first vice president between 2008 and 2013.

All three were previously honored with "Hero of the Republic," the highest praise awarded by the Cuban government.

On Saturday, Castro, 86, was initially set to hand over the presidency to a new leader, but the National Assembly extended his term by almost two months after general elections were pushed back due to the devastating aftermath of Hurricane Irma late last year.

Elections are set to take place on March 11 to choose more than 600 national lawmakers. The new parliament will then convene on April 19 to vote for a new Council of State, including its president.

In December, Castro reiterated his intention to hand over the presidency in April.

"When the National Assembly is constituted, I will have finished my second and last term leading the state and the government, and Cuba will have a new president," Castro said in a speech to lawmakers.

Castro will remain first secretary of the ruling Cuban Communist Party until the organization's next Congress in 2021.

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  • Published in Cuba

Ecuador's President Visits Cuba

Ecuador''s outgoing President Rafael Correa is today in the eastern city of Santiago de Cuba where he starts a two-day visit to the island during which he''ll pay tribute to late Fidel Castro and be conferred the Order Jose Marti, the country''s highest distinction.

In Santiago, the Ecuadorian Head of State, who arrived last night, is scheduled to visit Thursday Santa Ifigenia cemetery to pay homage to the historical leader of the Cuban Revolution; then, he'll be declared Illustrious Son of the City.

He is also visiting the Moncada Garrison, where the armed struggle against the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship sparked in 1953.

Correa's also scheduled to meet with local neighbors whose houses were uplifted or rebuilt by Ecuador's solidarity aid in the wake of Sandy hurricane in 2012, and talk with Ecuadorian students who are studying medicine there.

He'll be on Friday in Havana where he'll be hosted by President Raul Castro who will confer on him the Order Jose Marti, Cuba's highest award, after laying a wreath at the Memorial Jose Marti at the Revolution Square.

Rafael Correa who came to power in Ecuador in 2007 at the helm of the PAIS Alliance and led what he called the Citizens's Revolution will be honored as Doctor Honoris Causa of the University of Havana.

The outgoing leader will pass on the Presidency of Ecuador to Lenin Moreno next May 24.

  • Published in Cuba
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