, HAVANA, Aug 13 – Fidel Castro, who led Cuba for a half century and became known worldwide for decades of Cold War-era clashing with the United States, celebrates his 86th birthday Monday far from the limelight.
Officially, there are no plans to publicly honour the communist country’s one-time “commander-in-chief,” who tightly orchestrated public life there from January 1959 until he suffered a health crisis in 2006 and delegated his duties to his brother Raul Castro.
On Monday, youth organizations plan to mark not the anniversary of Castro’s birth but rather that of Rene Gonzalez, one of five Cuban secret service agents imprisoned in the United States considered “heroes of the war on terror” in their homeland.
And in another sign of the times, Idalys Ortiz, who claimed Cuba’s first Olympic judo title for 12 years, thanked her family, friends and Raul Castro, 81, before referencing the former president.
Fidel Castro has kept a low profile for months.
The father of the Cuban revolution last appeared in public in March, when he met Pope Benedict XVI on the pontiff’s visit to the Caribbean country.
The long-time leader has also fallen behind in his once prolific publications.
His long “reflections” – totalling 398 to date – were once regularly published in state media and read in full on state broadcasters.
Now, he pens just several lines every few months on topics that leave even his most loyal supporters perplexed.
While Castro once wrote about issues of international importance – such as the environment and nuclear war – he now extols the virtues of the protein-rich tropical moringa shrub. His latest piece appeared on June 19.
Cubans, many of whom openly consider themselves “Fidelistas” even as they denounce the shortcomings of the communist regime, believe their former leader spends his time in retirement on his property in west Havana, writing his memoirs and occasionally receiving foreign diplomats.
Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly and one of the highest-ranking officials in the only Communist state in the Americas, said in March that Castro is “routinely” consulted on major topics of “strategic importance.”
Such comments leave Cubans thinking that Fidel, even since his retreat into relative obscurity, still wields influence on his brother Raul, who has called for reform and a “change in mentality” to promote his plan for economic growth.
Raul Castro has launched some modest reforms seeking to improve the island’s Soviet-style economy.
Since 2011, his regime has allowed greater private commercial activity and agriculture in hopes of generating jobs and enabling the government to trim back a bloated public sector that accounts for 90 percent of economic activity.
But he has not dared to embrace wholesale economic reforms despite Cuba’s dire economic straits, with the state still managing almost all of the economy.