Quiet birthday for Castro at 85
Fidel Castro marked his 85th birthday out of the spotlight, with little fanfare around the ageing revolutionary who is rarely seen in public these days but still casts a long shadow over Cuban society.
There were no announced celebrations of his birthday, although two dozen musical acts from across Latin America held a concert in his honour on Friday night.
"What we say in the songs of our invited artists will be little next to what he deserves," said Alfredo Vera, one of the organisers. "Congratulations, beloved and eternal comandante."
The former president did not make it to his own birthday bash - hardly a surprise since he appears infrequently since he stepped down in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently in 2008, due an intestinal illness that he later said nearly killed him.
Nor did his younger brother and presidential successor, Raul Castro, attend. Instead, first Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who also delivered the keynote address for Revolution Day on July 26, was the highest ranking among several government officials in the presidential seats at Karl Marx Theatre.
A gregarious public speaker as president, Castro is seen publicly these days in official still photographs and video footage, such as recent images showing him with Raul and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is receiving cancer treatments in Cuba.
Castro seemed unsteady on his feet when he made a surprise showing at a Communist Party Congress in April, walking to his seat with the help of an aide. It was at that same gathering that the party for the first time named a leadership council without him on it, as Fidel left his last official position.
Yet even in retirement, Castro has continued to be a player on the island. Raul has said he consults with his older brother, and some Cuba-watchers say his presence has acted as a brake on reforms that Raul is betting will save the island's economy by loosening some state control.
"I think the issue is how long (Fidel) is going to linger on and how long he's going to meddle in the government," said Ann Louise Bardach, a long-time Cuba-watcher and author of the book Without Fidel: A Death Foretold In Miami, Havana And Washington.
"As long as he is alive and he is compos mentis, he's not going to change his thinking," she said. "He's not going to have an epiphany about economic policy. He's going to do what he always did, which is the preservation of the revolution at all costs."