Cuba honored President Fidel Castro’s 79th birthday Saturday, revisiting his nearly five decades in power on the communist island with tributes in state-run newspapers and documentaries.
Dozens of Cuban children danced and cut an enormous blue-and-white cake for Castro — the world’s longest-ruling head of government — while front pages bore his photo and loving words.
“We celebrate as your own, with the affection and immense admiration that children feel for the most noble, wise and brave father,” a letter to the “Comandante” said on the front page of the Communist Party daily Granma.
Signed “your people,” the letter called the president the “dearly loved Fidel” and highlighted his “special sensitivity for others” and “guerrilla spirit of just ideals.”
Just after midnight Friday, those attending a youth congress in Caracas, Venezuela, sang “Happy Birthday” to Castro, who sent a message of thanks and said he was watching the gathering on television.
The Cuban leader is an active 79. He maintains a busy schedule — including frequent speeches that can stretch to six or seven hours — and has shown no interest in retiring.
‘Moments with Fidel’
A documentary shown in an Old Havana theater Saturday displayed some of Castro’s most impassioned public speeches, from his assumption of power in early 1959, through the Cuban Missile Crisis and fall of the Berlin Wall, to more recent remarks justifying socialism against the threats of capitalist superpowers like the United States.
Though Castro clearly ages throughout Rebeca Chavez’s “Momentos con Fidel,” or “Moments with Fidel,” he also maintains his characteristic intensity throughout the decades, walking briskly, and pounding tables and wagging his finger when speaking.
“This revolution will leave indelible footprints in the history of the world,” the leader said on May Day, 2004. Earlier, a younger Castro says, “They can hate us, but they also must admire us. We never bow down.”
His battles have been many, and with the arrival of his 79th birthday came yet another victory — this time in the form of a U.S. appeals court decision that ordered a new trial in the high-profile case of five alleged Cuban spies.
Citing prejudicial publicity, the ruling last Tuesday threw out the convictions and ordered the men be tried somewhere other than Miami, where Cuban émigrés abound and anti-Castro sentiment runs high. Granma pointed out that one of the men, Rene Gonzalez, shares Castro’s birthday.
Cuba faces housing, power woes
The ruling gave Castro a boost as Cubans face tough domestic problems, including a housing crisis and an antiquated electrical grid that caused frequent and stifling power outages earlier this summer.
Despite some public dissatisfaction, there was little doubt that Castro remains firmly in control of the last communist state in the Americas and one of only five in the world. The others are China, Vietnam, North Korea and Laos.
Born in eastern Cuba’s sugar country where his Spanish immigrant father ran a prosperous plantation, Fidel Castro Ruz’s official birthday is Aug. 13, 1926, although some say he was born a year later. His designated successor has always been his brother, Defense Secretary Raul Castro, five years his junior.
Castro appears to maintain good health despite occasional rumors of illness and a fall last year that shattered a kneecap and broke his right arm. He used a wheelchair for several months.