On first May Day without Castro, Cuba looks to Díaz-Canel

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Close to a million Cubans turned out en masse in Havana on Tuesday to mark their first May Day of the post-Castro era, in a mass show of support for the revolution and the communist island’s new president, Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Among thousands of posters of the Castro brothers and fellow revolutionary Che Guevara held aloft by the crowds, there were also a few pictures of Diaz-Canel.

Although Diaz-Canel is largely an unknown quantity for most ordinary Cubans, people appear confident he will follow in the footsteps of his revolutionary predecessors.

Accompanied by his predecessor Raul Castro, Cuba’s new president arrived at the capital’s Revolution Square where some 900,000 people were gathered for the annual Workers’ Day march on his first major appearance since taking power on April 19.

This year, the gathering was to show support for Diaz-Canel’s leading the country along the same path as his predecessors.

“There are many reasons and arguments for turning this May Day into a demonstration of support for our revolution,” said Ulises Guilarte, secretary general of the Workers Central Union of Cuba (CTC).

It was also in support of “comrade Raul and the continuity of our revolution in both the state and the government as presided over by comrade Diaz-Canel,” he said.

In keeping with his historical role in the island’s history, the parade was presided over by Castro himself, who heads the powerful Communist Party, and was wearing his general’s uniform.

Next to him, Diaz Canel, who was born just after the revolution, was wearing a white shirt and a blue baseball cap of the Cuban national team.

With them on the platform were more than 1,400 guests from 34 countries and representatives of 66 unions and solidarity groups.

In front of them passed a human tide of people waving flags and banners, who saluted their leaders and chanted slogans.

“Raul, for sure, he will make it tough for the Yankees,” they chorused as they passed in front of him, chanting a slogan that rhymes in Spanish.

The only person to speak at the parade, Guilarte had tough words for the administration of US President Donald Trump, which has severely curtailed steps towards normalization with Havana that were begun in 2015 under Barack Obama.

“We denounce the aggressive and meddling conduct of the government of the United States,” said Guilarte, demanding it “halt the genocidal economic, commercial and financial blockade imposed on Cuba which is now intensifying.”

Washington still maintains a US trade embargo on Cuba, which was first imposed in 1962, and it has held the Guantanamo Bay naval base and prison on the island’s southeastern tip since 1902.

“The voice of the people is raised to demand the return of territory illegally occupied by the Guantanamo naval base,” he said.

Parades were also taking place in Cuba’s other main cities as well as in regional capitals, with CTC officials expecting some six million Cubans to take part, more than half of the island’s population of 11.2 million.

For update of International Workers Day celebrations in the USA with our correspondent in Washington, Kate Fisher.

Update from Brussels with Jack Parrock…