Video: Cuba's Fidel Castro turns 90.. a look back
The Cuban government has taken a low-key approach to Castro's birthday and no big rallies or parades planned
When Fidel Castro turns 90 on Saturday, the man who nationalized the Cuban economy and controlled virtually every aspect of life on the island will celebrate his birthday in a far different country than the one he ruled.
Hundreds of thousands of Cubans are running private businesses, buying and selling their homes and cars, and checking the internet on imported cellphones. Castro's greatest ally, Venezuela, is in economic free-fall, cutting the flow of subsidized oil that Cuba has depended on. Tens of thousands of Cubans are emigrating to the United States, hollowing out the ranks of highly educated professionals.
The island's brightest economic hopes lie in a post-detente surge in tourism that is expected to boom when commercial flights to and from the United States, Cuba's longtime enemy, start again on August 31.
It's an uncertain time, with no settled consensus around Castro's legacy. The government and its backers laud his nationalism and his construction of a social safety net that provided free housing, education and health care to every Cuban. Less is said about decades of economic stewardship that, along with a US trade embargo, has left Cuba's infrastructure and its economy cash-strapped and still dependent on billions in aid from abroad.
The Cuban government has taken a low-key approach to Castro's birthday. There are no big rallies or parades planned, no publicly announced visits by foreign dignitaries. Government ministries have held small musical performances and photo exhibitions that pay tribute to Fidel. An island-wide performance by children's choruses is the biggest event announced for Saturday.
The government hasn't even said if it will release photos or video of Castro, who last appeared in public in April, closing the twice-a-decade congress of the Cuban Communist Party with a call for Cuba to stick to its socialist ideals in the midst of normalization with the US.