Mon, Aug 13, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Fidel Castro’s fading celebrity may be sign of change

AFP, HAVANA

Fidel Castro, who led Cuba for half a century and became known worldwide for decades of Cold War-era clashing with the US, will celebrate his 86th birthday today far from the limelight.

Officially, there are no plans to publicly honor 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, Cuban President Raul Castro.

Today, youth organizations are set 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 US considered “heroes of the war on terror” in their homeland.

In another sign of the times, Idalys Ortiz, who claimed Cuba’s first Olympic judo title in 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 longtime leader has also fallen behind in his once prolific publications.

His long “reflections” — totaling 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 he 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.

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 its highest-ranking officials, said in March that Fidel 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 to promote economic growth.

Raul Castro has launched some modest reforms seeking to improve the island’s Soviet-style economy.

Since last year, his regime has allowed greater private commerce and agriculture in hopes of generating jobs and trimming a bloated public sector that accounts for 90 percent of economic activity.

However, he has not dared to embrace wholesale economic reforms despite Cuba’s dire economic situation.

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