Cuba May Day rally defends embattled Latin American left

Havana (AFP) - Hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched Sunday in the country's annual May Day rally, which condemned a campaign to "destabilize" leftist governments around Latin America.

The communist island traditionally holds enormous, festive demonstrations to mark International Workers' Day, which this year comes at a turbulent time for the left-leaning governments that have dominated the Latin American political scene for more than a decade.

"This May 1 is also a day to condemn the maneuvers aimed at... reversing the gains achieved in social policy in our America and destabilizing the leftist and progressive governments in power," keynote speaker Ulises Guilarte, the secretary general of the Workers' Central Union of Cuba, told a massive crowd on Revolution Square in Havana.

As examples, he cited Brazil, where President Dilma Rousseff is facing impeachment proceedings she condemns as a "coup"; Bolivia, where President Evo Morales recently lost a referendum to allow him a fourth term amid a scandal over whether he fathered a love child; and Venezuela, where President Nicolas Maduro's opponents are seeking to oust him in a recall referendum.

The leftist parties that have governed most of Latin America since the 2000s have stumbled lately as the region's economies have slowed.

The left recently suffered election defeats in Argentina, where conservative President Mauricio Macri won office in November, and Venezuela -- Cuba's key regional ally -- where the ruling Socialists lost the legislature by a landslide in December.

Cuban President Raul Castro presided over the rally on the capital's iconic square, which state media said drew 600,000 people.

Guilarte also repeated Castro's call for the United States to lift its more than half-century embargo on Cuba and return the "illegally occupied territory" of the US naval base at Guantanamo Bay, major sticking points in the old Cold War foes' rapprochement.