A series of dances and concerts are also planned across the nation, however celebrations are expected to be subdued after a turbulent 2008 in which hurricanes devastated the island and uncertainty continued over Fidel Castro's health.

'New problems'

In a brief message on the front page of Granma, Cuba's Communist party newspaper, on Thursday, Fidel Castro sent his congratulations to "our heroic people" for 50 years of revolution.

On Wednesday evening Raul Castro said his speech would refer to the "difficulties" that lie ahead for Cuba.

"There are many positive things, but at the same there are new problems that we have to confront. We haven't had peace, we haven't had tranquility," he said.

While most Cubans hail their government's achievements in education and health, many hope for more political and social freedoms.

Obama hopes

Raul Castro has initiated some reforms
since taking power in February [Reuters]
The nation, which has endured a much-criticised US trade embargo for more than four decades, also suffered for years after the 1991 collapse of the Soviet Union, Cuba's former biggest benefactor.

And in 2008, three successive powerful hurricanes this year left dozens dead and caused $10 billion in damages, destroying almost a third of Cuba's crops.

Raul Castro has initiated some changes since he formally took power from his brother, such as abandoning salary equality, relaxing bans on owning mobile phones, access to foreign hotels and computers and DVD players.

And many in Cuba are now hoping that when Barack Obama, the US president-elect, enters office on January 20, the nation will experience improved relations with the US.

"We are very hopeful that with Obama our relatives will be able to visit us more, and send us more money," Cuban Ana Luisa Mas in Havana told AP news agency.