Unusual Mention of '94 Protest in Cuban Media
The article portrayed the event as a victory for Castro's revolution — challenging the version of anti-Castro activists who celebrate it as a "day of resistance" to the communist government.
In the summer of 1994, food and fuel were scarce and islanders were sweating through hours-long blackouts that stilled fans, air conditioners and water pumps, making sleep fitful and bathing difficult.
Some desperate Cubans invaded foreign embassies to demand asylum. Others hijacked Havana harbor ferries and tried to take them to the United States.
On Aug. 5 — reportedly after police tried to block a ferry hijacking — hundreds of Cubans spilled onto Havana's seaside Malecon boulevard, picked up rocks and debris from crumbling buildings and hurled them at police.
Chants of "Liberty!" rose from the crowd.
Such street protests were — and still are — unheard of in a country where police officers are stationed on many street corners in cities and block-level committees are assigned to watch neighbors and defend the government.
Castro arrived in an army jeep to quiet the disturbance, and his appearance prompted some demonstrators to drop their stones and applaud.
Granma published a photo of Castro in his trademark olive-green fatigues listening to demonstrators, and it cast the protest as the government prevailing over "those who, spurred by the United States, disrupted public order in Havana's Malecon sector in a violent manner."
"That, as Fidel said, 'wasn't a bad day for the Revolution,' but actually a day of revolutionary reaffirmation," Granma said, referring to the armed uprising Castro led against dictator Fulgencio Batista.
Still, the paper also called the protest "a moment of great tension."
The Granma story was not the first public acknowledgment of the 1994 unrest. Castro appeared on state television on the first anniversary, saying Cubans should never forget it.
"I came because I had to come; it was a fundamental requirement to be with the people in a movement in which the enemy had worked for a long time to create a disturbance," Castro said in 1995.
But such prominent mention of the protest in state-controlled media is extremely rare.
Castro stepped down as president in February 2008 and has not been seen in public for three years. He has published scores of essays in state newspapers, though a recent drop in the pace of the articles has sparked rumors that his health has worsened ahead of his 83rd birthday Aug. 13.
A new column signed by Castro appeared Wednesday on the Cubadebate Web site in which he backed his friend and ally Hugo Chavez, the president of Venezuela, in his opposition to an impending deal to expand the U.S. military presence in Colombia. It was Castro's first essay in 13 days.
Cuba gradually pulled its economy out of the crisis of the early 1990s, which was prompted by the collapse of the Soviet Union and the loss of its billions of dollars in annual subsidies.
The current global economic crisis has plunged Cuba into its worst slowdown since that time of hardship. Authorities have imposed strict energy conservation programs to save oil that have cut air conditioning at state office buildings and businesses, but have yet to affect residential sectors.
Granma concluded that the 1994 uprising was: "A great victory and a warning to those who try to rise up against the revolution."