By Isaac Risco*
HAVANA TIMES — Rarely appearing these days in the public eye, Fidel Castro turns 87 on Tuesday in a country already accustomed to the absence of the once ubiquitous former Cuban president.
“I have lived to fight,” noted the guerrilla leader in his last public message, a letter written less than three weeks ago on the 60th anniversary of the assault on the Moncada Barracks, considered the beginning of the revolution that brought him to power in 1959.
As expected, Castro did not participate on July 26 at the celebration of the symbolic anniversary. “I won’t be (…) with you in Santiago de Cuba, I must respect the obvious resistance from the guardians of my health,” he wrote to apologize to the nearly a dozen heads of state and government who came to the island for the commemoration.
The date, celebrated as the “national day of revolt” in Cuba, was always one of his favorite venues for giving speeches that made him famous as a tireless and charismatic speaker.
Over the last seven years, speculation about his health, sometimes converted into a storm of rumors abroad, has contrasted with the message “Fidel Castro is doing fine” conveyed by each of his few public appearances or much less frequent written “Reflections“.
The former president who left office with a serious intestinal illness in 2006 has not lost the aura that makes each of the appearances of the “commander in chief” of the Cuban Revolution into a public event.
After recovering from his illness, and when it became clear that he would not occupy the same place as before in the public arena, he defined himself as a “soldier of ideas.” For several years he got used to publishing frequent opinion pieces in his column “Reflections” in the Cuban press.
In his texts, some so extensive they often seemed to evoke his former marathon speeches of several hours, the former president would elaborate mainly on current global issues, especially criticizing his old ideological enemy, the United States government.
The fight against climate change, the danger of the proliferation of nuclear weapons and alternative crops to resolve food and nutrition issues became some of his favorite themes.
His fondness for the “moringa” and “mulberry” plants have given the cultivation of both common tropical plants a boost on the island. Castro sees their cultivation as a source of “food and employment”.
In October 2012, he caused a sensation with the publication of photos surrounded by moringa and mulberry plants apparently in the garden of his home in Havana, leaning on a cane and wearing a plaid shirt and a typical Cuban farmer’s hat.
“Birds of ill omen!”, he snapped at his critics to reject the insistent rumors that he was on the brink of death. The Cuban press printed several photos of Castro in his garden, a change from the decades of images that showed him with his classic olive green military uniform.
In recent years Fidel Castro has entered a new facet in his life: that of the revered revolutionary leader among leftist leaders in Latin America.
Argentina’s Cristina Fernandez, former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva of Brazil, Bolivia’s Evo Morales and especially his close friend, the late Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, and other high level foreign dignitaries, are often received privately by the Cuban leader at his home during their passage through the island.
Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, was one of the last to see him this July. “He’s a brilliant old man” said Mujica, a 78-year-old former “Tupamaro” guerrilla on his visit to Castro, who he also called “brilliant”.
As in past years, it is expected that Fidel Castro will celebrate his birthday discreetly. The Cuban authorities have not announced special events for the 87th of the “commander in chief”.
(*) A Havana Times translation of the feature by Isaac Risco of the dpa news agency’s Havana office.