Fidel Castro turns 90 today, and thousands of Cubans have already gathered to celebrate.
After scores of assassination attempts against him and even having made enemies with the most powerful nation in the world, El Comandante, as he is sometimes called, quietly passed a milestone in his notoriously secluded life.
Meanwhile, the Cuban people celebrated Castro’s 90th birthday in any way but quiet, as thousands were reportedly dancing on Havana’s beaches to the sounds of traditional Latin music, with a live band playing “Happy Birthday” as the clock struck midnight and an impressive fireworks show filled the night skies.
The event coincided with Havana’s yearly carnival, which was set on the same day to honor Fidel Castro, who ruled the country for nearly 50 years, only to retire and hand leadership over to his younger brother Raul.
A parade complete with colorful floats, marching bands, and salsa dancers progressed along the Malecon seafront for several miles.
“This is the best gift we can give him, this party,” said 25-year-old dancer Leydis Campos according to the Irish Times. “To 90 years past, and to 90 more!”
Castro answered to the honor by penning an Op-Ed which began by thanking the Cuban people who took part in the festivities.
“I want to express my most profound gratitude for the shows of respect, the greetings and gifts I have received the days, which give me the strength to reciprocate through ideas,” wrote Castro, as reported by Reuters.
The piece goes on to reminisce a younger time in Castro’s life, discussing his father and his younger brother, who now rules in his stead, and takes a few jabs at current U.S. president Barack Obama, particularly criticizing his May speech in Hiroshima for not including an apology for dropping the first atomic bomb on that city at the close of World War II.
The Op-Ed was not the first time Castro publicly criticized Obama. After the U.S. president visited Cuba back in March for what was seen by some as a giant step toward rebuilding diplomatic relations between the two countries, which have been at odds since Fidel took control in 1959, the elder Castro soon took to Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, expressing his cynicism toward the visit.
“We don’t need the empire to give us anything,” read the piece titled “My Brother Obama” as translated by The New York Times.
Castro’s 1,600-word editorial went on to recount U.S. led hostilities against the small island nation, including the famous Bay of Pigs invasion in the early 1960s and the strict embargo, which remains mostly in effect to date. Finally, Castro criticizes Obama’s failure to acknowledge the Cuban Revolution’s major accomplishments such as free universal healthcare, state pensions, and attempts to eradicate racial discrimination by integrating indigenous people into society’s major roles.
As Fidel Castro turns 90 today, many historians will likely remember him for his dictatorial rule of Cuba since seizing power in the late 1950s from the U.S.-backed Fulgencio Batista regime. Though Castro is known for implementing a number of reforms geared toward eliminating inequality such as land redistribution and state incomes, his legacy is also blemished by aggressive control of media and freedom of speech, arbitrary arrests, and executions, multiple human rights violations attributed to him.
The aging Castro stepped down as Comandante in 2008 due to health issues and has made very few public appearances since. For a time, many even speculated that he had died and his brother Raul was keeping it a secret for fear that the news might incite a new Cuban Revolution overthrowing the almost six-decade-old one-party system the Castro brothers have historically controlled.
As Fidel Castro turns 90, he will undoubtedly be remembered either as a great reformer or extremist dictator. One way or the other, it is difficult for opinions to remain unbiased.
[Photo by Jorge Rey/Getty Images]