As Cuba's Castro turns 81, few celebrations expected

President Fidel Castro turns 81 on Monday with few public celebrations expected on the island, as Cuba's Communist leader continues his slow recovery from intestinal surgery.

As Cuba's Castro turns 81, few celebrations expected
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who claims to be Castro's political heir, hinted a week ago that he would "soon" visit his friend and may be in Havana on Monday, though there has been no official announcement.

Chavez was at Castro's bedside when the Cuban leader turned 80 last year and "provisionally" ceded power to his brother, Raul, four days after undergoing intestinal surgery.

Chavez's possible visit could be the highlight of the birthday celebrations: few in Cuba expect any of the glitzy spectacles of the past, or even fresh news about Castro's condition or his political future.

No official celebrations have been planned, and only a few social and political groups have announced festivities.

"No cheers or tears, nothing extraordinary, not a word said. He's no longer at the center," an unnamed 32-year-old woman watering her lawn told AFP. She echoed a widely held opinion that the Fidel Castro has been sidelined since his July 2006 surgery.

Kindergarten teacher Amelia Suarez, who at 36 has known no other president, recalled that Fidel "has always been discreet about his personal life, although all of us at times would like to know more about his health."

"The important thing is that we wish him a happy birthday and, above all, that he makes a good recovery," said Suarez. "He doesn't need any advertising."

Castro has not been seen in public since undergoing the operation, though he has appeared in photographs and eight videos taken during his recovery.

Lately Castro has been communicating with the public via articles attributed to him -- 37 to date since late March -- printed in the official newspapers Granma and Juventud Rebelde.

Under the general heading of "Reflections of the Commander in Chief," Fidel Castro has written at length on a variety of issues, nearly always ending in an anti-American tirade.

On July 31 Fidel relented somewhat to persistent questions about his plans for the future, saying cryptically that his 76-year-old brother Raul, Cuba's longtime number-two and defense minister, was making "every important decision ... after consulting with me."

Castro wrote that he will "fight ceaselessly as I have done all my life," said Castro, prompting many Cubans to read in between the lines that he is not returning to power.

Another sign is that since the operation Fidel has been seen wearing only pyjamas or a track suit -- not his olive-green army uniform.

On his 80th birthday Fidel hosted Chavez, while Cubans held open-air concerts, candle-light vigils and mass demonstrations of affection for their convalescing leader.

The real birthday celebrations, which Fidel postponed three months, started on November 28 with visits by 1,500 foreign dignitaries, and ended with a huge military parade on December 2 presided by Raul Castro.

During that celebration and three other important public events since then, Fidel Castro failed to make a public appearance.

Few believe that Fidel will be seen on Monday, despite his most recent video, dated June 5, that showed him in good spirits, though still fragile.

Last Mod: 13 Ağustos 2007, 14:39
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