photo courtesty: Art Monthly
Reuters -- Fidel Castro said on Tuesday that he was not well enough to attend a gala kicking off five days of celebrations of his 80 years.
Castro, who has not appeared in public since he underwent intestinal surgery in late July, said in a message that was read out to 5,000 supporters and admirers from dozens of countries that doctors had not allowed him to attend the packed event in Havana's Karl Marx theater.
"It was only in the Karl Marx Theater that all guests could be seated but, according to the doctors, I was not yet ready for such a challenging engagement," he said in the message.
"I bid you farewell with great sorrow for not being able to personally thank you and embrace every one of you," he ended.
Castro's birthday was August 13 but he postponed celebrations after undergoing emergency surgery for an undisclosed illness that forced him to hand over power temporarily to his brother Raul in late July.
Questions about whether he would be well enough to appear this week have dominated the run up to celebrations that some guests said feel more like a farewell than a birthday bash.
The leftist firebrand who seized power in a 1959 revolution could still make a brief appearance at the closing event, a military parade in Havana's Revolution Square where workers are erecting an elevated platform.
But, after the release on October 28 of a video that showed a gaunt, shuffling Castro, many Cubans believe he is too old and too ill to resume governing.
Whether or not Fidel Castro reappears in public, most Cuba watchers agree a successor government led by his brother and designated heir Raul is firmly in place.
For four months, the low-key Raul Castro -- the world's longest serving defense minister -- has run the country with few speeches and less fanfare than his brother.
BUSY ACTING PRESIDENT
Government sources say the acting president has been very active holding dozens of meetings, strengthening the ruling Communist Party and coming to grips with Cuba's economic problems.
"It makes little difference if Fidel shows up or not. The succession has begun," said an Asian diplomat in Havana.
"Many people got it wrong. They thought Cuba would fall apart. But Cubans are not pushing for political change. They want more cheese and ham."
Fidel Castro's absence has not dampened the enthusiasm of visitors who came from as far away as Ethiopia and Laos for the celebration of a man they view as a champion of Third World countries. Events include a two-day colloquium on Castro's place in history.
"We came to celebrate his birthday. Twenty-five years ago he did a good job for the Ethiopian people," said artist Lemma Guya, recalling the thousands of Cuban troops Castro sent to fight in his country and hundreds of doctors who served there.
"Fidel Castro is a representative of oppressed peoples and activist intellectuals," said left-wing American author and State University of New York professor James Cockcroft. "All of us are worried about his health."
Officials said 1,500 guests from 80 countries will attend the celebrations, including presidents Evo Morales of Bolivia and Rene Preval of Haiti and president-elect Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua.
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Castro's Address to the Cuban and Ethiopian Troops in 1978
"You will be an example for future generations of youths. Life teaches us how to act. Sometimes the sacrifice is difficult, but it will produce happiness, an awareness of satisfaction througout your lives. That is what is worthwhile in life. It is more so than anything else. To have the respect and love of your compatriots, the admiration of our people. Comrades, now we have the satisfaction of being here and being able to look at you as sons who are victoriously returning from combat..."