Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Castro's a birthday no-show

Castro's a birthday no-show
Cuba celebrates as convalescing leader turns 81
By ANITA SNOW | The Associated Press
August 14, 2007

HAVANA Fireworks exploded over Havana Bay and five Cuban agents
imprisoned in the United States sent greetings as ailing leader Fidel
Castro turned 81 on Monday, spending his second consecutive birthday
convalescing at an undisclosed location.

There was no message from Castro, who has not appeared in public since
announcing more than a year ago that he had undergone intestinal surgery
and was provisionally ceding power to his younger brother Raul. The true
state of his health and any future role for him in government remain

Hundreds of children from the Communist Pioneers youth group gathered
Monday in Havana's Lenin Park to enjoy a massive sheet cake with light
blue frosting, pink roses and the message "Felicidades, Comandante," or
"Congratulations, Commander."

"Congratulations Fidel on your day!" the children sang, clapping their
hands as they kept time to the Cuban birthday song.

"What do I wish?" 7-year-old Dayron Gutierrez asked a news crew, his
mouth covered with frosting. "That he doesn't die. I love him."

Hundreds gathered along the Malecon seawall in Havana to watch fireworks
pop over the water in a tribute to Castro.

Shouts of "Long live Fidel!" and "We shall overcome!" poured into the
darkness from the open windows of one apartment in Old Havana.

Aside from the midnight pyrotechnics and parties for children in
Castro's honor, there were no organized celebrations for Castro.

The celebrations Monday were not much different from past years, when
Castro sometimes joined a group of children during low-key tributes that
centered around the cutting of a cake.

The longtime U.S. foe is reviled by many Cuban exiles in Miami who
accuse him of widespread human rights abuses.

But more birthday greetings were sent by five Cuban agents serving long
terms in U.S. prisons on espionage charges and published in the
Communist Party newspaper Granma.

"On this 81st birthday, we desire for you health and vitality, that you
have many more, and that we can celebrate all those future anniversaries
together in our beautiful fatherland," wrote Ramon Labanino, one of the
so-called "Cuban Five" who were living in Miami a decade ago when they
were arrested on espionage charges. Labanino is serving time at a
penitentiary in Beaumont, Texas.

The men deny they were seeking U.S. secrets and say they were gathering
information about violent groups in an effort to prevent terrorist
attacks against the island.

Castro has issued several essays a week since late March, weighing in on
subjects including biofuels and the war in Iraq. But there was no
birthday message from the ailing leader.

Senior Cuban officials months ago stopped insisting that Castro would
return to power. His condition and exact ailment remain state secrets.


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