Official Cuban press extensively covers Fidel Castro’s birthday

Screenshot of Cuban newspaper Escambray.
Screenshot of Cuban newspaper Escambray.

Fidel Castro insisted in a 1979 speech that the Cuban revolution did not have a cult of personality.

But nearly 40 years later, the island’s official media is relentlessly paying homage to his 90th birthday Saturday and turning Aug. 13 into a national holiday.

The typical stories focus on his life and legacy: “Fidel Castro and the United States. How could he defeat such a powerful enemy?” and “The history of Africa cannot be written without mentioning Fidel.”

There are also reports on tributes abroad — “Venezuela launches homage to Fidel from Chávez’ native state” — and on groups dedicating some kind of event to Castro, like “Meeting on early education dedicated to Fidel Castro.”

And this: “Children paint the comandante.”

Some writers tried to stand out by giving their headlines a literary punch, like “Faces that show what Fidel exudes,”or “Fidel is the immediacy of the future.” The latter’s meaning is buried somewhere in the accompanying interview with a Cuban scientist.

Of course there’s no lack of personal anecdotes within the reports, like the one told by “Cheo,” who claimed to have been the first to scrawl the phrase “Viva Fidel,” on a wall in the town of Regla in 1955.

But at the rate of three or four Castro stories per day, it seems the government’s newspaper monopoly has been running out of new angles and has started to reach for any new bits it can find, no matter how far-fetched.

Juventud Rebelde, for example, published a story on Castro’s “capacity” to stay on top of technology developments around the world, and Trabajadores reported that the National Tax Office in the eastern province of Camagüey had dedicated a tree to Castro.

Granma, meanwhile, reported that a craftsman in the eastern city of Holguín had built a model of the house where Castro was born in the village of Birán — and lost part of a finger in the process. The author noted that the man “only wishes that the model he worked so hard to make can reach the hands of the undefeatedcomandante and bring back intimate memories of his family life.”

In the search for new material, the writers have even referenced some events that don’t portray Castro in the best light. The newspaper Escambray reported on a family dispute when the father of then 12-year-old Castro ordered him to stay in Birán and refused to send him back to his boarding school in Santiago de Cuba.

“Fidel detailed his arguments and, seeing that they were not working, threatened in a fit of anger to burn down the house,” the newspaper reported. Castro was indeed allowed to return to Santiago.

The birthday recognition has also made it to social media, with the Ministry of Foreign Relations using the #FidelEntreNosotros — Fidel Among Us — to keep followers up-to-date on the “massive participation” of tributes to Castro.

At the street level, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, a neighborhood vigilance group, would not be left behind. Members have been urged to share messages about Castro on social media as part of the Bien Conectados (Well Connected) initiative.

The irony of this? Cuba has one of the lowest connectivity rates in Latin America.

Inevitably, in a country known for its music, there is also a song dedicated to the comandante. The government’s Cubadebate site, which published a special page titled “Fidel, soldier for ideas,” reported that the EGREM record company produced a special tune for the occasion.

The title: “Happy Birthday, Fidel.”