Fidel Castro’s Role in Cuba Is Chiefly Offstage as He Turns 87

HAVANA (Reuters) -

Fidel Castro turns 87 on Tuesday, largely out of sight but not out of mind, as Cuba struggles to move on from his half-century rule and as many of his policies are reconsidered under the leadership of his younger brother Raul.

The birthday of one of Latin America’s most iconic revolutionary figures has been a low key celebration in recent years. A choral concert in his honor at the Jose Marti national monument in Havana on Monday evening was the only official event.

Castro goes about his daily activities out of the public eye, and how much influence the retired commandante still wields is unknown. He emerges every once in a while to reassure his followers that he is very much around, frustrating those who wish he was not.

“No one believes anymore that Fidel has any real influence over day-to-day policy,” a western diplomat said, “but that doesn’t mean he is never consulted on big questions or that when he comes out it isn’t important.”

Photos of a frail-looking Castro meeting with visiting dignitaries are occasionally published, as well as some of his writings, though far fewer than his once frequent “Reflections,” on global topics.

The once-towering, broad-shouldered man is now stooped. He has trouble walking, and his famed booming oratory has softened to a near whisper.

Raul Castro, 82, has governed the Caribbean island since his brother became ill.

He is presiding over a sweeping plan to move the bankrupt Soviet-style economy in a less paternalistic and more market-friendly direction, like those of Vietnam and China. He has loosened regulations on travel and the buying and selling of personal property and broadened other personal freedoms, while preserving Cuba’s one-party communist system.

Raul Castro rarely speaks in public, and when he does it is invariably for less than 45 minutes, a dramatic change from the hours-long oratory of Fidel Castro.