Saturday, April 18, 2009

Cuba's mass rallies: An extreme sport

A sea of red, white and blue

One of these days I'm going to dig out the old 35mm photos I shot almost a decade ago of rallies that took place during the battle over Elián González, the young boat wreck victim.

During one day of protest, Cuban officials said that more than two million people took to the streets in Havana and other cities. That was an astounding 20 percent of the country's entire population.

These numbers are difficult to verify, but I went to some of the rallies and there were throngs of people as far as I could see. It was an incredible sight.

After 50 years, Cuban officials have become experts at conducting these rallies. Critics of the socialist government say people are forced to attend. Certainly, there is pressure to go, Cubans have told me. But some say they like the rallies because they get the day off work. They see their friends, listen to music and sometimes they dance.

Of course, it's a rally, so there's plenty of yelling and flag-waving. And some people even listen to the speakers.

Social workers at a rally where Fidel Castro spoke in 2006

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