Tue, Aug 14, 2007 - Page 7 News List

Public celebrations of Castro's birthday likely to be low key

AFP , HAVANA

Cuban President Fidel Castro marked his 81st birthday yesterday with few public celebrations expected on the island, as the communist leader continued his slow recovery from intestinal surgery.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who claims to be Castro's political heir, hinted a week ago that he would "soon" visit his friend and might visit Havana yesterday, though there had 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 said.

She echoed a widely held opinion that the Fidel Castro has been sidelined since his surgery in July last year.

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," Suarez said.

"He doesn't need any advertising," she said.

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-US 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 No. 2 and defense minister, was making "every important decision ... after consulting with me."

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

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