Cuba went into overdrive this month honoring the retired “El Comandante” who spearheaded its 1959 revolution and built a Communist-run state on the doorstep of the United States, surviving what it says were hundreds of assassination attempts along the way.
Thousands danced to Latin beats along Havana’s curving seafront Malecon boulevard throughout the night from Friday to Saturday. It was a giant street party in his honor, with a live band playing “Happy Birthday” on the stroke of midnight and fireworks exploding on the other side of the bay.
“I want to express my most profound gratitude for the shows of respect, the greetings and gifts I have received the days, which give me the strength to reciprocate through ideas,” Castro wrote in the opinion piece.
Castro, who handed power to his younger brother Raul in 2008 due to poor health, went on to reminisce about his youth as a child on the family plantation in the eastern village of Biran, in particular about his father who died before the revolution.
“He suffered quite a bit,” Castro wrote. “Of his three male children, the second and third were absent and distant, both fulfilling their duty in revolutionary activities.”
Even back then, Fidel wrote, he knew Raul should replace him if anything should happen to him, in particular if the United States succeeded in its attempts to kill him.
“I almost laughed about the Machiavellian plans of the U.S. presidents,” he wrote.
True to form, Castro went on to lambast Barack Obama, this time for the U.S. president’s speech in May when he visited Hiroshima, site of the world’s first atomic bombing at the end of World War Two.
“He lacked the words to ask for forgiveness for the killings of hundreds of thousands of people,” Castro wrote.
In his last opinion piece, in March, the “Historic Leader” accused Obama of sweet-talking the Cuban people during his visit to the island – the first by a U.S. leader in 88 years – and of ignoring the accomplishments of Communist rule.
Many Cubans feel Fidel is no longer in step with the times. Raul’s most broadly feted accomplishment since taking power has been implementing a detente with the United States after a half century of frozen confrontation.
Considered more pragmatic, the younger Castro also introduced market-style reforms to invigorate the state-dominated economy and increased personal freedoms, such as the right to travel abroad. Fidel has lent these policies only lukewarm support in public.
Still, that didn’t stop tributes to Fidel flooding in on the occasion of his birthday, ranging from the conventional, such as photo exhibits about his life, to the outlandish, with one cigar maker rolling the longest smoke in the world, measuring 90 meters (295 feet), in Fidel’s honor.
Indeed, regardless of the present, many Cubans continue to revere Fidel for having freed Cuba from U.S. domination and introduced universal, free healthcare and education.
“Fidel is the best thing that happened to our country,” said Aldo Zamora, 40, selling candy-colored balloon animals at the street party along the Malecon, as a tropical electric storm lit up the night sky.