Castro turns 90, blasts Obama

Mr Fidel Castro (centre) with Cuban President Raul Castro (left) and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro at a gala for his birthday in Havana.
Mr Fidel Castro (centre) with Cuban President Raul Castro (left) and Venezuelan leader Nicolas Maduro at a gala for his birthday in Havana.PHOTO: REUTERS

HAVANA • Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro made a rare public appearance as he turned 90 at the weekend on an island transformed from the one he led for 50 years.

Dressed in a white track jacket, Mr Castro sat between his brother and successor, Raul, and Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro at a gala organised by a children's theatre company, a live broadcast on local television showed on Saturday, his birthday.

The outing to Havana's Karl Marx Theatre, the island-nation's largest, marked his first public appearance since April 19, when he was seen at the close of the Cuban Communist Party Congress.

Both loved as a hero and hated as a dictator, Mr Castro is one of the giant figures of modern history.

He defied 10 United States presidents during his 48 years in power, but in the decade since he stepped aside, Cuba has become a different world. His sworn foe, the US, is no longer officially Cuba's enemy.

Now white-bearded and frail, Mr Castro was a strapping 32-year-old in green fatigues when he led a rebel force that drove out dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

His image as a revolutionary warrior storming down from the mountains, rifle in hand, stirred his admirers' imagination. His communist policies and iron-fisted treatment of rivals drew the hostility of the US and other Western powers.

Although his voice used to boom out over Havana in speeches that lasted hours, the former president now spends his days out of sight.

And although he is rarely heard from, he has lost little of his old fire, particularly when it comes to the US. He criticised US President Barack Obama for failing to explicitly apologise during his historic visit to Japan in May for Washington's decision to drop an atomic bomb on Hiroshima in 1945. He condemned as "equally criminal" the bombing of Nagasaki three days later.

Referring to the scores of US assassination plots against him - Cuban intelligence services numbered them at more than 600 - he said: "I almost laughed at the Machiavellian plans of US presidents."

For most Latin Americans, said Mr Peter Hakim, an international affairs expert at the Inter-American Dialogue think-tank, Mr Castro represents heroic resistance to the hegemony and control of the US.

"But I do not think he will be seen as a hero for much longer... The modern world has left him and Cuba behind."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'Castro turns 90, blasts Obama'. Print Edition | Subscribe