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Raul Castro silent at Cuban rally

Cuba's annual Revolution celebration was notable for its lack of speech-making.

Speaking in Raul Castro's place on Monday was 79-year-old Cuban vice president Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, but he had no new announcements or messages for the Cuban people. Instead, he took a few standard-fare shots at the United States and repeated the admonishments Raul Castro has given in previous speeches, urging Cubans to produce more, waste less and be patient with the pace of economic reforms designed to preserve the country’s socialist system and increasing its woeful productivity levels.

“We have to overcome our deficiencies without turning to populist solutions, taking things one step at a time, going at our own pace, in order to avoid making mistakes or losing control,” Machado Ventura said.

He made no mention of government plans to lay off or reassign more than a million state-employed workers over the next few years, as Reuters reported last week, citing community party members. Those plans could become clearer when Cuba’s National Assembly begins its brief annual session later this week.

After Monday's event, Cubans in the crowd said they had hoped to hear from Raul, but they weren’t surprised that he chose not to speak, given his reputation as someone who ducks the spotlight. Rigoberto Rubio Hernandez, a university professor, said the president “isn’t much for speech-making,” making an often-made comparison to his famously loquacious older brother.

Matilde Patterson, an English teacher, said she thought many people wanted Raul to speak, but that the crowd — typically composed of the government’s most loyal supporters — wasn’t too disappointed.

“People still have great faith in our leadership,” she said.

The crowd applauded eagerly whenever Fidel Castro's name was mentioned, even though he was nowhere in sight. Despite the setting at the memorial to Che Guevara, he received only passing mention from Monday's speakers.