August 13, 2009 / 5:43 PM / 10 years ago

Fidel Castro turns 83 with economy on his mind

HAVANA (Reuters) - Former Cuban President Fidel Castro marked his 83rd birthday on Thursday with a gloomy warning about the global economic crisis, which is hitting his country hard, and a vow to “carry on.”

A man enters a doorway next to a wall which reads "Long live Fidel" in Havana August 12, 2009. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa

Castro, the leader of Cuba’s 1959 revolution that brought communism to the Caribbean island, has remained out of public view for the last three years and in 2008 handed over the presidency to younger brother Raul Castro for health reasons.

But while he leaves day-to-day running of the government to Raul Castro, he remains influential behind the scenes and writes regular commentaries for state-run media.

In a column published in the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Thursday, Fidel Castro expressed skepticism about perceptions in the United States and in Europe that the world recession may be easing.

“The tendency among American politicians is to believe that as soon as the banks make available enough money to grease the machinery of the productive apparatus, everything will be on track toward an idyllic world beyond our dreams,” he wrote.

“Some say that the economic crisis is the end of imperialism ... Maybe it must be wondered if it does not mean something worse for our species,” he said in the commentary.

Closing his column on a more upbeat note, he said, “In my judgment, it will always be best to have a just cause to defend and the hope to carry on.”

Although he has handed over the reins to Raul Castro, who is 78, Fidel Castro has stayed defiant against what he portrays as continuing U.S. efforts to end the socialist system in Cuba he led and defended for nearly half a century.

He has said Cuba will not surrender, playing down cautious steps taken this year by U.S. President Barack Obama to improve ties with Havana.

Obama has said he will keep the 47-year-old U.S. trade embargo on the island to press the Cuban leadership to improve human rights and grant political freedoms.

Although the two governments have agreed to talk on migration and other issues, Fidel and Raul Castro have made clear that Washington should not expect concessions from Havana, and that they will not shift Cuba to capitalism.


Cuba is facing its worst economic crisis since the 1990s as the global economic crisis squeezes its centralized economy, with drops in revenues from foreign currency earners such as tourism and nickel mining.

In response, Raul Castro has tweaked the state-run economy with limited reforms to try to increase productivity.

No major special events were held on Thursday to commemorate Fidel Castro’s birthday.

On Wednesday, an exhibit of 83 photographs of the former Cuban leader opened at the Hotel Nacional in Havana.

The latest, said to have been taken about two weeks ago by his son Alex Castro, showed him wearing a blue baseball cap and appearing healthy.

Similar photos were posted on the Internet on Wednesday by Pastors for Peace, a U.S-based group that recently made one of its frequent trips to Cuba carrying goods, to show its defiance of the U.S. trade embargo against the island.

These photos, at, also show Castro wearing the blue baseball cap and a white running jacket and standing with Pastors for Peace founder Lucius Walker and other members of his organization.

Reporting by Esteban Israel; editing by Jeff Franks, Pascal Fletcher and Paul Simao

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