Fidel 83, A Discreet Celebration

Patricia Grogg

Recent photo of Fidel Castro and Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace
Recent photo of Fidel Castro and Rev. Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace

HAVANA TIMES, August 14 (IPS) – Today the historic leader of the Cuban Revolution, Fidel Castro, is celebrating his 83rd birthday, the fourth one that has gone by since he stepped down from power due to illness.  Over this period he has keep abreast of national and international events without being involved in day-to-day politics.

Overall governance is now the responsibility of his younger brother, 78-year-old Raul Castro, who was elected president of the Council of State in February 2008.  Nonetheless, the senior Castro has retained his position as the first secretary of the ruling Communist Party of Cuba (CCP), and many of his supporters continue to refer to him as the “Commander-in-chief.”

Few people doubt the weight of his influence in the life of the country, a certainty perhaps shared by Raul Castro himself, who when assuming the presidency requested parliament that he be allowed to continue consulting “the leader of the Revolution” on significant decisions.

Nor has Fidel Castro’s seat in the National Assembly of Popular Power (parliament) been occupied.  The chair in which he had sat over the years of regular and special meetings of that “supreme organ of state power” remains empty.

“Fidel cannot be substituted, and the people will continue his work when he is no longer here physically,” affirmed Raul Castro.

In the younger Castro’s trip to Ecuador this past week, where he attended the swearing in ceremony of Rafael Correa for his second presidential term, the Cuban leader repeated another of his ideas, apparently aimed at dispelling doubts or debunking any possible disaccord between the two brothers.

Small Shades of Difference

Raul Castro said: “There is a single party” in the United States, asserting that there is no difference between the Republicans and the Democrats, and adding that what one plans the other executes.  “That is as if two parties existed in Cuba: one directed by Fidel and the other by Raul, with small shades of difference, but it’s the same thing,” he said in an interview in December and repeated in Quito.

The two leaders seem to share similar concerns about the direction of the Revolution once the generation that took power and has wielded it is no longer around. While in November 2005 Fidel Castro noted that that revolutionary process could be destroyed by its own weaknesses, Raul has shown the resolve to do everything possible to prevent this.

“This country can self-destruct; this Revolution can be destroyed. Today, they (the United States) are not the ones that can destroy it – we are, we can destroy it – and it would be our fault,” said Fidel Castro in November 2005 when he spoke for six hours before an audience of university students.

The then leader outlined a campaign against corruption to stem the misappropriation of state resources, theft in public companies and the abuse of power, among other crimes.

Months later, on July 31, 2006, the man who had held the reins of the country for almost half a century announced his temporary retirement to recover from a complicated surgery.  He designated Raul Castro, second in the line of succession, as the interim president.

Even from this provisional appointment, the new leader began to put the country in order. Among his first measures was an order for a new disciplinary program for political leaders and state officials, with sanctions for absences and unjustified tardiness as well as for the loss and theft of state goods.

In a step considered key to advancing the institutionalization of this program, this past July 30 the parliament approved the General Comptrollership Act, charging this new agency with supervising and auditing state resources – even those at the highest government levels.

After the decision to postpone the 6th Congress of the PCC, which had been planned for the second semester of this year, eyes have turned toward the holding of a communist party National Conference, which will be organized within a “relatively brief” period, according to Raul Castro, its second secretary.

That conference is expected to take actions to “renovate” the Central Committee, the Political Bureau and the Secretariat of the CCP (the sole party of this country), which collectively will be responsible for continuing and preparing the Congress.  That 6th Congress will “probably” be the last one headed by the historic leaders of the Revolution, indicated Raul Castro in the meeting in which the postponement was decided.

The Cuban economy is confronted with such an extensive host of concerns and severe difficulties that its projected rate of growth has been ratcheted back from 6 percent to 1.7 percent for this year. The weight of this has fallen squarely on the president, while his brother has remained active and maintained a presence through his opinion columns specially focused on international issues.

Although it is assumed that the former leader’s birthday will lapse discreetly, it began to be recalled several days in advance with photographic exhibitions, the presentation of a dictionary that contains almost 2,000 quotes from his speeches and interviews, and mentions of the birthday in the state-run press.

Fidel Castro was born on August 13, 1926 in Biran, a town in the eastern Cuban province of Holguin, some 500 miles from Havana. The brothers have shared political ideals from before the assault on the Moncada Barracks on July 26, 1953 – a military defeat that detonated the triumphant insurrection on January 1, 1959.

A Havana Times translation of the original article published in Spanish by IPS.