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Friday, August 12, 2016

Cuba subdued ahead of Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday

Cuba subdued ahead of Fidel Castro's 90th birthday
By Michael Weissenstein | AP August 12 at 12:09 AM

HAVANA — Fidel Castro greeted his 80th birthday from his sickbed,
gripping a newspaper to show he was alive two weeks after stepping down
as president.

For the next 10 years the leader of the Cuban revolution watched from
home as his brother Raul granted Cubans new economic freedoms and
declared detente with the United States after a half-century of hostility.

When Fidel Castro turns 90 on Saturday, the man who nationalized the
Cuban economy and controlled virtually every aspect of life on the
island will celebrate his birthday in a far different country than the
one he ruled.

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans are running private businesses, buying
and selling their homes and cars, and checking the internet on imported
cellphones. Castro's greatest ally, Venezuela, is in economic free-fall,
cutting the flow of subsidized oil that Cuba has depended on. Tens of
thousands of Cubans are emigrating to the United States, hollowing out
the ranks of highly educated professionals.

The island's brightest economic hopes lie in a post-detente surge in
tourism that is expected to boom when commercial flights to and from the
United States, Cuba's longtime enemy, start again Aug. 31.

"The future lies with the young people and young Cubans aren't waiting
for things to come to them," said Ernesto Gonzalez, a 25-year-old dance
producer. "There's much more information than there was 50 years ago and
this opening to the world, this new boom, Cuba as a top trending topic,
makes us young people see things from a different perspective, in terms
of developing this country and ourselves."

It's an uncertain time, with no settled consensus around Castro's
legacy. The government and its backers laud his nationalism and his
construction of a social safety net that provided free housing,
education and health care to every Cuban. Less is said about decades of
economic stewardship that, along with a U.S. trade embargo, has left
Cuba's infrastructure and its economy cash-strapped and still dependent
on billions in aid from abroad.

The Cuban government has taken a low-key approach to Castro's birthday.
There are no big rallies or parades planned, no publicly announced
visits by foreign dignitaries. Government ministries have held small
musical performances and photo exhibitions that pay tribute to Fidel. An
island-wide performance by children's choruses is the biggest event
announced for Saturday.

The government hasn't even said if it will release photos or video of
Castro, who last appeared in public in April, closing the twice-a-decade
congress of the Cuban Communist Party with a call for Cuba to stick to
its socialist ideals in the midst of normalization with the U.S.

His voice quavered but he appeared vigorous and healthy for a man of 89,
whose long absences from the public eye have provoked speculation about
his health ever since complications from gastrointestinal surgery forced
him to hand power to his brother.

"Soon I'll be 90, something that never would have occurred to me," said
Castro, the survivor of years of close-range fighting during the
revolution and dozens of U.S.-sponsored assassination attempts after his
victory. "Soon I'll be like all the others. Our time comes for all of
us, but the ideas of the Cuban communists will endure."

That's an idea that receives a qualified endorsement from many Cubans,
who are deeply disenchanted with the paltry salaries, shortages and
paralyzing inefficiency that remain hallmarks of Cuba's centrally
planned economy.

Many Cubans today openly describe themselves as capitalists, and say
time has proven that Castro's economic ideas do not work. But others
praise Cuba's low crime, its health and educational benefits, its
investments in making cultural activities and sports available to all,
and its support for putting family and friends before work obligations.

"The revolution has made a lot of mistakes but the Cuban people are
believers in Fidel because his ideas were noble," said Marisel Avila, a
49-year-old singer. "We have to lift up our economy, without selling
ourselves, without denying our history, but we can't live in the past,
either."


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Michael Weissenstein on Twitter: https://twitter.com/mweissenstein

___

Associated Press writer Andrea Rodriguez contributed to this report.

Source: Cuba subdued ahead of Fidel Castro's 90th birthday - The
Washington Post -
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/the_americas/cuba-subdued-ahead-of-fidel-castros-90th-birthday/2016/08/12/82b6a0be-6042-11e6-84c1-6d27287896b5_story.html
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