Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro marked his 86th birthday Monday perhaps fully out of power, perhaps still advising his brother Raúl on strategic issues, and perhaps tending to the plants that he has been promoting in recent months as a great source of nutrition.
Havana newspapers wished Castro well and island supporters passed around a Twitter message saying “El Caballo sigue aquí” — The Horse is still here. Government officials also scheduled several commemorative events in Havana and the provinces.
But the man who ruled Cuba from 1959 until he underwent emergency intestinal surgery in 2006 has been seen in public only occasionally in the past year and was not expected to appear at any of the public birthday events on Monday.
“Life is so ironic, so humorous,” Havana blogger Yoani Sánchez wrote in a Twitter message. “The man who made us believe he was omnipresent, Fidel Castro, is now nowhere to be seen.”
Castro was last seen in public in photos taken during his March 28 meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in Havana. He had met earlier that month with Japanese survivors of the U.S. atomic bombing of Hiroshima and appeared at two events in February, one to help introduce one of his biographies and the other to meet with Cuban intellectuals.
He last published one of his columns, known as “reflections,” on June 19. And the last nine columns, published June 10 to June 19, were one-paragraph notes that mostly left readers puzzled about exactly what he meant to say.
Some Cuba analysts argue that the former leader is completely out of power and that his current opinions either don’t carry any weight at all or are taken into consideration only when he and a handful of aged followers take a strong stand on some issue.
Others say he remains engaged in the major issues confronting the island as Raúl Castro, his brother and successor, tries to enact a long string of significant reforms to move the Cuban economy away from the Soviet model.
Raúl Castro is making major decisions “in close consultation with Fidel,” former Cuban intelligence analyst Domingo Amuchastegui told a Miami gathering of the Association for the Study of the Cuban Economy earlier this month.
Castro is healthy and has several new interests that keep him busy, said Max Lesnik, a Miami radio commentator who travels often to Havana and has met with Castro several times.
The former Cuban ruler lately has been experimenting with the edible plant moringa at a farm on the outskirts of Havana, Lesnik said. In one of his cryptic June notes, Castro described moringa as an “inexhaustible” source of nutrition for people and farm animals.
Castro also has been “totally absorbed” over the past three weeks watching the London Olympic games, Lesnik added. Although Castro’s official birth certificate says he was born in 1926 in the eastern village of Birán, there is evidence that he was really born in Aug. 13, 1927, but that his family reported him as being a year older to qualify him for a Catholic school in Santiago de Cuba.
He seized power after dictator Fulgencio Batista fled Cuba in 1959 and was officially succeeded by Raúl Castro in 2008. But even as Castro largely faded from view, he has remained an icon for many leftists around the world.
Bolivian President Evo Morales wished Castro well on his birthday and described him as “THE man of the liberation initiatives for America and the world. Never had I known a man with so much solidarity for the people of the world.”
“Fidel is THE example of solidarity, but besides that he is a man, a brother, a compañero who struggles for life, for humanity,” Morales said in a statement broadcast on Cuban television.