SANTIAGO, Cuba - President Raul Castro warned Washington that Cuba would stay focused on defense regardless of who wins November's presidential election, but failed to announce more changes to the communist system during a major address Saturday night.
Castro, a four-star general, instead highlighted the past as he spoke to thousands of cheering supporters in front of the Moncada military complex, where rebels led by his brother Fidel launched an attack 55 years ago and planted the seeds for the 1959 Cuban revolution.
"When we attacked the Moncada, none of us dreamed of being here today," Castro told the crowd in Santiago, 535 miles (860 kilometers) southeast of Havana, the de-facto capital of the island's eastern half.
He warned of more economic austerity for the already poor island in the face of rising food prices, but also used the 48-minute speech to command Communist Party leaders to put Cuba's house in order and fulfill promises they make to the Cuban people.
And he put the U.S., which also hoped for greater change under his regime, on notice.
"We shall continue paying special attention to defense, regardless of the results of the next presidential elections in the United States," Raul said.
Perhaps showing his age, the 77-year-old president ended the speech by mistakenly dedicating the 59th anniversary of the Moncada attack to his brother, Fidel. He then laughed at himself, noting that this year actually marked the 55th anniversary of the event.
It was at a commemoration of this anniversary two years ago that Fidel Castro was last seen in public. He underwent emergency intestinal surgery five days later and has only appeared in official videos and photographs since.
The Moncada attack was a disaster, with many assailants killed and most of the rest captured. But it launched a movement that brought Fidel Castro to power when President Fulgencio Batista fled the country.
Since taking office five months ago, Raul Castro has made changes his older brother eschewed — opening more unused state land to private farmers, legalizing cell phones for ordinary citizens and allowing some workers to seek legal title to their homes.
Some Cubans hoped he would use the speech to ease restrictions on international travel or announce other incremental reforms, but none came.
While both Castro brothers were born in Cuba's east, Raul, five years younger that Fidel, seems happiest there.
"Raul is a man of the people and Santiago is full of his people," said Elizabeth Trumpeta, 42, an administrator at a government shoe repair shop who lives across the street from Moncada. "He can go to Havana, live and work there, but he has Santiago in his heart."
Yet Fidel Castro — not Raul — is featured on Revolution Day posters affixed to houses and businesses across Santiago. With a broad grin, he hoists a rifle skyward before a picture of the Moncada barracks, now a museum attracting more than 100,000 visitors annually.
The crowd chanted "Fidel! Fidel! Fidel!" and "Long live Fidel!" throughout Saturday night's speech.
Some Cubans say their hopes for change under the new government are fading.
"There are a lot of people on the street who talk about change, but we haven't had even one economic or political reform that counts, nothing we hoped for with Raul," said Oswaldo, a 69-year-old retired construction worker. He declined to give his last name, saying, "Being able to openly criticize things is something else we can only hope for."