Cuba gears up military show as Castro health questions multiply
by Michael Langan Wed Nov 29, 2:52 PM ET
HAVANA (AFP) - Soaring fighter jets, screaming schoolkids and drilling
for a military parade to celebrate
Fidel Castro's 80th birthday could not drown out new doubts about the
Cuban leader's frail health.
Hours after Castro missed the start of belated public celebrations for
his August 13 birthday, eight MiG fighter jets zoomed over Revolution
Square as workers marched past anti-aircraft missiles and troop
transport choppers flew low, to ready for Saturday's first military
showcase parade in a decade.
Schoolchildren gathered on balconies and street corners to eye the war
machinery, chanting anti-US slogans. "Missiles, Comandante, to shoot
down imperialism!" was one group's shrill scream.
But widespread public expectation that Castro -- unseen in public since
undergoing intestinal surgery on July 27 -- would be on hand to salute
the troops and the Cuban people, took a body blow from an update on his
A letter attributed to the ailing revolutionary was read Tuesday evening
to thousands of guests and supporters at Havana's Karl Marx Theatre at
the kick-off event of the celebrations.
"I was not yet well enough, according to my physicians, to take part in
such a challenging event, so I decided to speak with you in this way,"
said the letter, dated November 28 and read by a state television news
Celebrations of Castro's birthday were postponed from August until this
week in the hope he would have recovered enough to attend.
"I am hoping (Fidel Castro) will be present, the military parade is in
honor his 80th birthday; I hope he can be with us even if it is for five
minutes," said Jorge Santana, 42, a communications technician on the march.
"That is what we are really hoping for, but ..." added Dolores Hart with
the Cuban Women's Federation, her voice trailing off, and uncertain when
discussing Castro's condition.
Some 5,000 people attended the Tuesday gala, including Foreign Minister
Felipe Perez Roque and some 1,800 visitors from 80 countries. Absent
however was Raul Castro, Cuba's interim leader and a younger brother of
Dissident Elizardo Sanchez described the birthday celebrations as
"pharaonic" in scope, and with shades of a farewell event.
On July 31 Castro handed over Cuba's helm temporarily for the first time
in more than four decades to Raul, the defense chief, as Fidel -- who
has led Cuba since 1959 -- recovered from surgery.
Cuban authorities have disclosed few details on Fidel Castro's health,
which is considered a state secret. Speculation has been widespread that
he will be unable to return to work full time. Authorities earlier said
he was recovering favorably, but then stopped saying he was expected to
return to work.
Castro last appeared in a video October 28 to refute rumors he was
seriously ill or even dead.
At that time he warned that his recovery would be long and "not without
Castro's somewhat disjointed missive Tuesday included jabs at the United
States and concerns about the environment.
Referring to US
President George W. Bush, the text said Cuba is "facing an adversary who
has dragged the United States to such a disaster that the American
people are almost sure to prevent him from completing his presidential
"If the industrialized and wealthy countries succeeded in ... the
miracle of reproducing solar fusion on the planet, within several dozen
years, devastating before then the environment with their hydrocarbon
emissions, how could the poor peoples who make up the immense majority
of mankind live in this world?" the text asked, with the admonition: "It
is our duty to save our species."