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Castro urges Cubans "back to the land"

On Cuba's national holiday, Raul Castro says higher production will help the economy.

Sunday’s speech marked the 56th anniversary of the Castros’ failed attack on the Moncada garrison, the event that launched their “26 of July” guerrilla uprising against U.S.-backed dictator Gen. Fulgencia Batista y Zaldivar.

It has been three years since the elder Castro, who turns 83 next month, withdrew from public and Raul began running the country. Though he initially raised expectations of economic reforms among many Cubans, Castro has made only minor changes so far to the socialist system he inherited. His most significant measure to date has been the land reform program that aims to put idle state property — 50 percent of the island’s arable land, he said Sunday — into the hands of anyone willing to farm it for profit. According to Castro, 110,000 Cubans have applied for the temporary land leases.

Dressed in his military uniform, Castro spoke for about 35 minutes and made almost no mention of the United States, another contrast to his older brother, famous for railing against “Yankee imperialism.”

Instead, Raul spoke about economic and development issues: Cuba’s progress in recovering from $10 billion in damage caused by last year’s three hurricanes, new efforts to increase the country’s water supply and improving milk production.

Castro is expected to continue downsizing Cuba’s vast government apparatus, and he drew laughter from the mostly subdued crowd when he mocked government agriculture officials who say the country can’t afford to plant more trees, asking how previous generations managed to plant the mango trees that the country enjoys today.

Castro’s call to work harder seemed to be met with a tepid response from the crowd, but resonated with some who woke up early to attend the speech. “If you don’t work, you don’t eat,” said Daisy Pupo Olaguivel, a 38-year-old peanut vendor who had also come to the plaza to sell her wares.

While some of her neighbors had opted to stay home and did not support the Castro government, Pupo Olaguivel said she tries “to see the positive side of things,” and said the Cuban government had given her a sense of security she equated to “freedom.”

“I don’t worry about what happens if my daughter gets sick,” she said. “I don’t have to worry that she’ll get shot when she goes to school.”

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