August 11, 2006

Cubans plan Castro birthday with or without leader

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Supporters of Cuban leader Fidel Castro,
anxious to see him reappear after an unprecedented absence, are
preparing to celebrate his 80th birthday on Sunday with or
without him.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 26 and he
stunned the country five days later by ceding power to his
brother after complicated stomach surgery.

"We are hoping Fidel will say something to us on Sunday.
I'm sure he will appear at some point," said pensioner Roque
Mejias, 74, walking in Havana's Vedado district. "We are very
hopeful he will recover."

Dozens of musicians will perform on Saturday night on the
"Anti-Imperialist Stage" opposite the U.S. diplomatic mission
on Havana's Malecon seafront boulevard. They plan to play
through midnight to sing Castro "Happy Birthday."

Some Cubans will do what officials termed voluntary work on
Sunday to pay homage to the ailing revolutionary and to show
support for his communist-run government.

Sugar industry workers will work four extra hours in cane
plantations, officials said. Communist youth organizations will
man building sites and other workplaces.

There was no new word on Friday on Castro's condition.
Officials say he is recovering and will be back running the
government in weeks if not months.

His ebullient Venezuelan ally President Huge Chavez said
with typical rhetorical flourish on Thursday that Castro was
fighting a "great battle for life."

But neither Castro nor his younger brother and acting
president, Raul Castro, have appeared in public. Many Cubans,
accustomed to knowing little about the internal workings of the
government, were not sure who was running the country.

"I want to see him, and hear him say he is better. We love
him very much," said Agustina Rodriguez, 63, dressed in white
as is the custom in Afro-Cuban religion. She said she was
praying for his recovery.

Rumors that Castro is dead have circulated wildly among the
Cuban emigre community in Miami, where his enemies hope his
demise will rid the Caribbean island nation of communism.

Some in Miami said they hoped that Castro's 80th birthday
would be his last.


"The best thing he can do is die so that this whole
disgrace should end," said Huber Matos, who fought alongside
Castro in 1959, was later jailed for 20 years as a traitor and
now lives in Miami.

In Cuba, dissidents who oppose Castro's one-party rule and
work for democratic change are not so sure Castro's time is up
or that his brother Raul is running the government.

"I do not believe he is dead. He is still in charge and
running Cuba," said Vladimiro Roca, the son of a founding
father of Cuban communism who has spent five years in jail for
criticizing Castro's economic policies.

"Otherwise Raul would have appeared already," Roca said.
"Will Castro reappear on Sunday? That depends on what effect he
wants to cause."

The United States, for its part, is still hoping for
democratic change.

"When a rotor comes off a helicopter, it crashes. When a
supreme leader disappears from an authoritarian regime, the
authoritarian regime flounders," said Assistant Secretary of
State Thomas Shannon on Friday.

The government has organized hundreds of meetings at work
places and in parks to rally support.

"We have given a good example of unity," Communist Party
official Fernando Remirez de Estenoz, told reporters. "Under
the leadership of the Party and Raul, we will continue our

(Additional reporting by Rosa Tania Valdes and Nelson