- Associated Press - Wednesday, August 13, 2014

HAVANA (AP) - Cuba marked Fidel Castro’s 88th birthday Wednesday with tributes in official media, a concert and a photo exhibit in the capital and a newly inaugurated restoration of the home where he was born.

Loathed by many exiles in Florida who see him as a man who ruled with an iron fist and stamped out civil liberties, Castro was celebrated on the island as a fighter for equality and social justice who defied the United States for five decades.

“Eighty-eight more reasons to continue fighting for the salvation of humanity,” read a headline in the newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

“Paying homage to Fidel is a great party,” Communist Party daily Granma said.

Castro retired for good in 2008 following a near-fatal illness, ceding power to his younger brother and designated successor, Raul, who turned 83 in June. The younger Castro says he intends to leave office by the time his current term is up in 2018, and last year he named a next-generation heir-apparent in First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel.

Fidel Castro rarely appears in public these days, and in recent years has not taken part in official celebrations of his birthday. Still, the milestone was another reminder that the clock is ticking for aging revolutionaries who continue to occupy many top positions.

“Eighty-eight years, that’s a lot, and in a way the advanced age of the majority of the leaders is worrying,” said Frank Jimenez, a 67-year-old retiree in Havana. “With the exception of Diaz-Canel, they’re around 80 years old. I think they should have prepared more young people … they need that to move forward.”

The photo exhibit, titled “Fidel is Fidel,” is a collection of images of Fidel Castro taken between 2005 and 2012 by Roberto Chile, who had access to the Cuban leader for more than 25 years.

It opened Tuesday evening at Havana’s memorial to independence hero Jose Marti. Revolution-era figures such as Jose Ramon Fernandez, Guillermo Garcia Frias and Armando Hart attended, as did famed Cuban ballerina Alicia Alonso.

Island officials said a parallel show was put on in a gallery in Berlin.

Cuban newspaper Trabajadores said the restoration of Castro’s birth home in Biran, in the eastern province of Holguin, was carried out by the Havana Historian’s Office and workers from a state-run construction concern.

The touch-up at the rural estate also included several other structures such as the family pantheon where Fidel and Raul Castro’s parents were laid to rest, a school where they studied as young boys and huts where Haitian plantation workers lived.

Despite being out of power and out of the limelight, Castro still casts a long shadow.

He meets regularly with visiting foreign dignitaries, most recently presidents Vladimir Putin of Russia and China’s Xi Jinping.

Castro has also continued to author newspaper columns that usually touch on world current events such as the Ukraine crisis and a recent summit of BRICS nations in Brazil.

Last week, state media published a piece in which Castro sharply criticized Israel’s offensive in Gaza, calling it a “genocide that is being committed against the Palestinians” and warning of a “Palestinian Holocaust.”


Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed.


Peter Orsi on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Peter_Orsi

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