Cuba’s fading Fidel Castro turns 85 tomorrow

HAVANA, (Reuters) – Revolutionary legend Fidel  Castro turns 85 tomorrow, still an important figure in his  communist-ruled Cuba, but increasingly a fading presence in the  life of the country he ran for 49 years.

He gave up his last leadership post this year when he  stepped down as head of the ruling Communist Party and has  retreated further and further from public view.

His gradual slipping away appears to be a product of choice  borne of necessity, but also of a transition plan to wean Cuba  from its once near-total dependence on the charismatic  Comandante’s leadership.

He is rarely seen or heard from and has stood largely on  the sidelines as his younger brother and replacement, President  Raul Castro, struggles to reform Cuba’s Soviet-style economy.

“His role has diminished significantly. He has stepped away  more so than at any point in the last five years,” said  Jonathan Benjamin-Alvarado, a Cuba expert at the University of  Nebraska in Omaha.
“It may be a case of Raul Castro solidifying his governing  style and Fidel willingly receding,” he told Reuters.

Cuba was to celebrate the birthday on Saturday with a  nationally televised “serenade” by a lineup of musicians.  Organizers said this week they did not know if Fidel Castro  would attend personally.

He came to power on New Year’s Day 1959 when his guerrilla  forces swept down from the eastern Sierra Maestra mountains to  topple U.S.-backed dictator Fulgencio Batista.

As Cuba’s president, he outlasted nine U.S. presidents and  five decades of U.S. hostility, but in July 2006 he underwent  emergency intestinal surgery and suffered complications from  which he never fully recovered.

He handed power provisionally to Raul Castro, then did so  officially when he resigned in February 2008 and his younger  sibling was elected president by the National Assembly.

The fading of Fidel’s political presence has mirrored a  physical decline that was most notable at a Communist Party  congress in April when he made just one appearance and had to  be helped to his chair on the stage.

The man once famous for his hours-long speeches sat  wordlessly as his brother did all the talking in a silent  passing of the torch.

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