HAVANA – Cuban leader Raul Castro and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro presided over Friday’s massive May Day parade and rally in Revolution Square.
The two presidents were greeted with applause when they appeared on the podium along with members of Castro’s government, leaders of Cuba’s CTC labor federation and more than 2,000 foreign guests, among them Spanish Communist Party chief Jose Luis Centella.
This year’s celebration of International Workers Day in Cuba came against the backdrop of a diplomatic thaw with the United States after more than five decades of antagonism.
CTC head Ulises Guilarte, the only speaker, referred to the new political landscape after “the government of the United States acknowledged the failure of its policy of harassment, aggression and blockade against Cuba.”
“Some steps have been taken already to restore diplomatic relations between Cuba and the United States, but we still have a long and difficult road to walk,” Guilarte said.
“We will move toward a normalization of bilateral relations on the basis of respect for Cuba’s sovereignty and independence, and this includes the end of the (U.S. economic) embargo, and the restoration of the territory usurped by (the U.S.) naval base in Guantanamo,” he said.
The parade was led by the “five heroes”: the five intelligence officers who spent years in the United States on espionage convictions.
The last of the “Cuban Five” who remained behind bars were released last December as part of the rapprochement announced by Castro and President Barack Obama, which also resulted in freedom for a U.S. government subcontractor serving time in Cuba.
CTC, Cuba’s only legal labor organization, represents some 3.4 million workers and retirees.
As it has done in recent years, CTC dedicated May Day parades across the country to support for the Cuban Revolution and for the economic reforms the government says are needed to “update” the island’s socialist model.
CTC also urged solidarity with Venezuela, Cuba’s main ally, which is currently on the receiving end of U.S. sanctions.