The Cuban regime celebrated January first the 45th anniversary of Fidel Castro's revolution with a New Year's message calling on citizens to prepare for yet another year of struggle.
"We have reached this point making giant steps - without giving up our convictions, without taking our eyes off the horizon, without allowing anything to impede optimism and hope," said a release broadcasted on state television January first.
The annual message, a kind of "state of the nation" anticipated that 2004 "will be another year of struggle against adversities." Looking back on 2003, the communist government of the 77 year old leader said that Cubans confronted "with courage and intelligence the intensified threats and aggressive plans of a feverish U.S. administration delirious in its quest to establish a global fascist dictatorship".
"We face the most ferocious political and opinion campaign against the revolution", and "we have disrupted all efforts to isolate us and - with a historic 179 support vote - we delivered the most categorical defeat to the (U.S. economic) embargo in the U.N. General Assembly," underlined the message.However hours before the official outburst the island's most prominent dissident, Oswaldo Paya, in a statement circulated in Havana criticized the continuing climate of "injustice and oppression", urging solidarity with political prisoners and demanding a peaceful transition based on dialogue.
"Now, in addition to demanding rights, it is necessary to design the transition process," Paya said in the "Message of Hope for 2004", adding that "not only will changes take place in Cuba, the Cubans themselves will make them", in a national dialogue without exclusions, "Cuba will be reborn free and in peace".
Paya's New Year's message came several weeks after he circulated a detailed agenda for transition to democracy in Cuba. He described the plan as complementary to the Varela Project, which entailed the delivery to the National Assembly of petitions with more than 25,000 signatures requesting a referendum on proposals to democratize the island. Actually 2003 was not an easy year for the Cuban regime that has been increasingly at odds with the international community over the arrests of 75 independent journalists, human rights activists and other non-violent opponents of the Castro government. A general atmosphere of growing repression seems to have taken over the island.
Most of those arrested were sentenced by "kangaroo courts" to an average of 20 years in jail, while three would-be boat hijackers were summarily sentenced and shot.However in the economic field Cuba seems to be recovering from recession with an ever expanding tourist industry and the strong participation of foreign investment in other vital areas of the economy such as public utilities, mining and oil. Particularly in oil and gas Canadians have helped Cuba attain self sufficiency in heavy oils and the Cuban government has invited American companies to participate in offshore exploration and exploitation.
Strangely enough even when Washington and Havana are politically more distant than ever, U.S. agricultural exporters took great advantage last year of their government's decision in late 2001 to authorize cash sales of commodities to Cuba. In the last two years, Cuba has purchased more than $6 billion worth of goods from U.S. companies, according to official estimates.
Cuban media also devoted much attention to Fidel Castro's success in nursing allies in the continent, particularly the dictator's close personal and political ties with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez; the cordial relations with Brazilian president Luiz Inacio Lula Da Silva and Argentine president Nestor Kirchner who is scheduled to visit the island this summer.