By ANITA SNOW | Associated Press Writer
11:07 AM EDT, August 13, 2007
HAVANA - Fireworks exploded over Havana Bay and five Cuban agents
imprisoned in the United States sent greetings as ailing leader Fidel
Castro turned 81 on Monday, spending his second consecutive birthday
convalescing at an unknown location.
"Today we celebrate one more anniversary of the birthday of our
commander in chief Fidel Castro, who turned 81 and who will continue
celebrating many more birthdays with Cuba and the world," Havana
resident Rosa Maria Suarez said in the early hours of Monday.
She and hundreds of others stood on the Malecon sea front just after
midnight to watch the fireworks marking Castro's birthday and the end of
Havana's annual summer carnival.
"He's celebrating with his family at home, but it's as if he were with
us here," said student Irane Neskaye, also watching the colorful
pyrotechnics show popping over the bay with the skyline of Havana's
iconic Cabana Fortress in the background.
Shouts of "Long live Fidel!" and "We shall overcome!" resounded from the
open windows of an apartment in Old Havana.
From prisons in the United States, five Cuban agents serving long terms
on espionage-related charges sent greetings of their own, which were
published on Monday's Communist party newspaper Granma. Two
documentaries about the bearded revolutionary's life were scheduled to
air on state television early Monday evening.
"On this 81st birthday, we desire for you health and vitality, that you
have many more, and that we can celebrate all those future anniversaries
together in our beautiful fatherland," wrote Ramon Labanino, one of the
so-called "Cuban Five" who were living in Miami a decade ago when they
were arrested on espionage charges.
The men deny they were seeking U.S. secrets and say they were gathering
information about violent groups in an effort to prevent terrorist
attacks against the island.
No major public celebrations of Castro's birthday were announced, and
there was no expectation that he would make a public appearance more
than a year after he announced he had undergone emergency intestinal
surgery and was temporarily ceding power to his brother Raul, who is now 76.
Even when well, Castro traditionally has always celebrated his birthday
in a low-key manner, often simply sharing a cake with Cuban school children.
Raul Castro, the longtime defense minister, in recent months has
appeared to have consolidated his rule even though no procedural steps
have been taken to make his role a more permanent one.
Life has been little-changed in Cuba in more than one year since the
younger Castro assumed leadership of a caretaker government on July 31,
2006. Many believe Raul is more likely than Fidel to undertake modest
economic reforms in the island's communist-run system, but no major
changes are expected while the elder Castro is still alive.