US embassy cable - 96HAVANA5288

FIDEL CASTRO TURNS 70

Identifier: 96HAVANA5288
Wikileaks: View 96HAVANA5288 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: US Interests Section Havana
Created: 1996-08-16 13:00:00
Classification: CONFIDENTIAL
Tags: PGOV CU
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
R 161300Z AUG 96
FM USINT HAVANA
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 2177
INFO AMEMBASSY NASSAU 
JTLO MIAMI FL
AMEMBASSY BUENOS AIRES 
AMEMBASSY MEXICO 
USCINCACOM NORFOLK VA
USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 
AMEMBASSY CARACAS 
CCGD SEVEN MIAMI FL
DEPT OF TREASURY WASHINGTON DC
AMEMBASSY SANTO DOMINGO 
WHITE HOUSE WASHINGTON DC
AMEMBASSY SANTIAGO 
AMEMBASSY KINGSTON 
HQ INS WASHDC
COMDT COGARD WASHINGTON DC
DIRFBI WASHINGTON DC
AMEMBASSY PANAMA 
AMEMBASSY BRASILIA 
USMISSION GENEVA 
USEU BRUSSELS
AMEMBASSY BOGOTA 
ALL EUROPEAN UNION POST COLLECTIVE
USIA WASHDC 9341
DEPT OF JUSTICE WASHINGTON DC
AMEMBASSY OTTAWA 
C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 03 HAVANA 005288 
 
 
DEPARTMENT FOR ARA/CCA AND AID/AA/LAC (PETER 0RR) 
ROME FOR THE VATICAN 
 
E.O. 12958:  DECL:X6 
TAGS:        PGOV, CU 
SUBJECT:     FIDEL CASTRO TURNS 70 
 
1. CLASSIFIED BY MICHAEL G. KOZAK, PRINCIPAL OFFICER 
REASON 1.5(D). 
 
2. (C) SUMMARY:  FIDEL CASTR0 CELEBRATED HIS SEVENTIETH 
BIRTHDAY AUGUST 13 AMID CHILDREN AND T0P REGIME 
OFFICIALS IN A PARK FACILITY OUTSIDE HAVANA.  DESPITE 
CASTROS DENIALS OF A CULT OF PERSONALITY, THE 
GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED MEDIA BUILDUP T0 THE BIRTHDAY 
LASTED FOR SEVERAL DAYS.  AMID THE OFFICIALLY-FESTIVE 
AIR, THE UNDERLYING MOOD HAS WISTFUL, L0OKING BACK T0 
THE PAST, NOT TOWARD THE FUTURE.  THE CELEBRATION 
REFLECTS THE DEGREE TO WHICH REGIME SUPPORTERS BELIEVE 
THAT THE FATE 0F FIDEL AND THE REVOLUTI0N ARE 
INTERTWINED.  END SUMMARY. 
 
 
FIDEL CELEBRATES AMID CHILDREN 
------------------------------ 
 
3.  (U) THE MAIN PUBLIC CELEBRATION WAS HELD IN THE 
NEWLY-RESTORED PALACE OF THE JOSE MARTI PIONEERS, THE 
CUBAN GOVERNMENT MASS ORGANIZATI0N FOR CHILDREN UNDER 
FIFTEEN.  THE PALACE IS LOCATED IN A PARK OUTSIDE 
HAVANA, WHICH MEANT MANY HAVANA RESIDENTS WERE UNABLE T0 
ATTEND DUE TO LACK OF TRANSP0RTATION.  HOWEVER, THE 
CUBAN GOVERNMENT PROVIDED DOZENS 0F BUSES T0 TRANSP0RT 
CHILDREN TO THE FACILITY (F0R TWENTY CENTAVOS) FR0M ALL 
HAVANAS MUNICIPALITIES.  P0L/EC0N 0FFICERS WH0 ATTENDED 
THE CELEBRATION FOUND A CROWD 0F SEVERAL THOUSAND 
CONSISTING PRIMARILY OF CHILDREN ACCOMPANIED BY A PARENT. 
 
4.  (U) WITH CAMERAS EVERYWHERE, FIDEL TOURED THE PALACE 
FLANKED BY CHILDREN, LISTENING T0 ADULT INSTRUCTORS 
EXPLAIN THE VARIOUS FACILITIES:  A MUSEUM, GAME R00M, 
COMPUTER ROOM, ELECTRICAL ASSEMBLY ROOM, EVEN A SMALL 
BAKERY AND LOW-ALCOHOL BEER BREWERY.  B0TH FIDEL AND A 
YOUNG PIONEER PAID TRIBUTE T0 THE EFF0RT 0F 
RECENTLY-DECEASED GENERAL SENEN CASAS REGUEIR0 IN THE 
PALACES RESTORATION.  FIDEL SPENT ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE 
MINUTES IN AN OPEN-AIR C0URTYARD IN THE PALACE WHERE 
YOUNG PIONEERS MADE A PRESENTATI0N AND SANG "HAPPY 
BIRTHDAY," AFTER WHICH CASTR0 BRIEFLY ADDRESSED THEM. 
 
5.  (U) THE PIONEERS PRESENTED CASTRO A STAR-SHAPED 
CAKE;  HE MANAGED TO BL0W 0UT M0ST BUT N0T ALL THE 
CANDLES WITH ONE BREATH.  A NUMBER 0F OFFICIALS 
ACCOMPANIED CASTRO, INCLUDING BROTHER HAUL (IN CIVILIAN 
DRESS), VICE PRESIDENT CARL0S LACE, HAVANA CITY 
HISTORIAN EUSEBI0 LEAL, FEDERATION 0F CUBAN WOMEN 
PRESIDENT VILMA ESPIN, HAVANA CITY C0MMUNIST PARTY CHIEF 
ESTEBAN LAZO, COMMUNIST Y0UTH UNI0N (UJC) FIRST 
SECRETARY VICTORIA VELAZQUEZ AND MINISTER OF SCIENCE, 
TECHNOLOGY AND ENVIRONMENT ROSA ELENA SIMEON.  FORMER 
OLYMPIC BOXING GOLD MEDALIST TE0FILO STEVENSON CARRIED 
HIS YOUNG DAUGHTER IN TO HEAR FIDEL SPEAK. 
 
6.  (U) AFTERWARD, FIDEL GAVE AN EXTENDED INTERVIEW TO 
SEVERAL CUBAN FEMALE JOURNALISTS WHO L0BBED QUESTIONS 
THAT FURNISHED CASTRO AN 0PP0RTUNITY T0 REFLECT 0N HIS 
HUMBLE YOUTH, HIS DAILY R0UTINES AND THE ACHIEVEMENTS OF 
THE CUBAN REVOLUTION.  IN RESPONSE TO AN EXCLAMATION 
THAT HE MUST BE DROWNING IN WORK, CASTRO REPLIED THAT 
"NOW I DO NOT HAVE S0 MUCH WORK," REFERRING TO THE 
WELL-PREPARED CADRES AND GREATER INSTITUTIONALIZATION 
OF THE REVOLUTIONARY GOVERNMENT. 
 
7.  (U) THE GOVERNMENT-CONTR0LLED MEDIA HAD BEGUN T0 
FOCUS 0N THE EVENT SEVERAL DAYS BEFOREHAND.  NEWSPAPERS 
RAN ARTICLES ON EVERY IMAGINABLE ASPECT OF FIDEL'S 
LIFE:  HIS YOUTH, HIS B0YH00D H0ME, HIS UNIVERSITY DAYS, 
THE SIERRA MAESTRA, THE REV0LUTI0NS EARLY DAYS.  THE 
FRONT PAGE OF THE AUGUST 13 EDITI0N 0F THE COMMUNIST 
PARTY NEWSPAPER "GRANMA" CARRIED A P0EM IN HON0R 0F 
FIDELS BIRTHDAY CALLED "TIME D0ES N0T DEVOUR REDEEMERS" 
BY JESUS ORTA RUIZ, THE REGIME'S CURRENT POET LAUREATE. 
THE AUGUST 13 EVENING NEWS SPENT OVER HALF THE BROADCAST 
ON THE CELEBRATION.  THE NEWS HAS F0LL0WED BY EXTENDED 
EXCERPTS FROM FIDEL'S POST-BIRTHDAY PRESS CONFERENCE AND 
A DOCUMENTARY ON FIDEL'S LIFE CALLED "ANGEL'S SON" 
(REFERRING TO FIDEL'S FATHER'S FIRST NAME).  THE NEXT 
DAY, "GRANMA'S" FRONT PAGE FEATURED A LARGE PH0T0 OF 
FIDEL BLOWING OUT THE CANDLES 0N HIS CAKE; INSIDE HAS 
ANOTHER PHOTO SPREAD OF THE CELEBRATI0N. 
 
CULT OF PERSONALITY? WHAT CULT OF PERSONALITY? 
--------------------------------------------- - 
 
8.  (U) DESPITE THE MEDIA ATTENTION, THE OFFICIAL LINE 
FOCUSED ON A DISINGENOUSLY-MODEST FIDEL FROWNING ON 
ANYTHING THAT SMACKED OF A CULT OF PERSONALITY, BUT 
SIMPLY UNABLE TO RESTRAIN AN ADORING PUBLIC.  IN A JULY 
20 SPEECH TO THE PIONEERS, CASTRO MUSED ABOUT HIS 
UPCOMING BIRTHDAY:  "REALLY WE HAVE NEVER CELEBRATED 
BIRTHDAYS, THEY HAVE ALWAYS PASSED DISCREETLY, NOT EVEN 
MENTIONED IN THE NEWSPAPERS.  ONLY RECENTLY SOME HAVE 
TAKEN THE LIBERTY...OF REMEMBERING SOME OF OUR 
BIRTHDAYS;  BUT WE HAVE ALWAYS RESISTED EVERYTHING THAT 
COULD BE AN OFFICIAL CELEBRATION;  NOR WILL THERE BE ONE 
THIS TIME."  BUT THE CELEBRATION HAD ALREADY BEEN 
SCHEDULED, RIGHT DOWN TO LOCATION AND TIME:  THE JUNE 23 
EDITION OF THE COMMUNIST YOUTH UNION (UJC) NEWSPAPER 
"JUVENTUD REBELDE" ANNOUNCED A "TRIBUTE TO THE COMMANDER 
IN CHIEF FOR HIS SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY" AT 10:00 AM IN THE 
PIONEER PALACE. 
 
9.  (U) THE GOVERNMENT-CONTROLLED MEDIA DUTIFULLY PLAYED 
ITS ASSIGNED ROLE.  THE AUGUST 11 EDITION OF "JUVENTUD 
REBELDE" DECLARED ALMOST APOLOGETICALLY "TODAY WE WANT 
TO TAKE LICENSE...WE KNOW THAT FIDEL WOULD PREFER 
ANONYMITY, BUT IT WOULD NOT BE FAIR...TO DEPRIVE 
OURSELVES OF THE JOY OF CELEBRATING HIS SEVENTIETH 
BIRTHDAY."  EVEN AS THE HOOPLA REACHED A MIND-NUMBING 
CRESCENDO, FIDEL INSISTED TO A REPORTER ON AUGUST 12: 
"MY BIRTHDAY HAS NO IMPORTANCE...SOMETIMES, THINGS ARE 
BEYOND OUR CONTROL BECAUSE WE CANNOT PREVENT PEOPLE FROM 
DOING CERTAIN THINGS.  I HAVE ALWAYS TRIED TO DISCOURAGE 
IT...THEY WENT AHEAD AND DID IT.  NEWSPAPERS HAVE 
PUBLISHED A FEW THINGS ON THEIR OWN."  INTERVIEWED AFTER 
THE PALACE CELEBRATION, FIDEL REMINDED REPORTERS HE 
"FOUGHT" AGAINST A CULT OF PERSONALITY, GOING SO FAR AS 
TO PROHIBIT OFFICIAL PORTRAITS OF ANY GOVERNMENT 
OFFICIALS. 
 
A FOCUS ON FIDEL'S AGE, PHYSICAL SAFETY 
--------------------------------------- 
 
10.  (U) THERE WAS PALPABLE OFFICIAL NERVOUSNESS OVER 
FIDELS AGE.  ORTA RUIZS AUGUST 13 FRONT-PAGE PAEAN 
PROCLAIMED CASTROS ENEMIES "WANT TIME TO CONDEMN YOU TO 
DEATH...THEY COUNT YOUR HOURS, IT ENCOURAGES THEM TO SEE 
YOUR WHITE BEARD...YOUR GRAY HAIR DELIGHTS THEM."  IN AN 
AUGUST 12 INTERVIEW, CASTRO ANSWERED A NUMBER OF 
QUESTIONS ABOUT HIS HEALTH, INCLUDING HIS DIET, WEIGHT 
AND EXERCISE.  FIDEL ASSURED THE REPORTER HE WAS IN GOOD 
HEALTH, ADDING "I DO NOT KNOW WHY PEOPLE PAY SO MUCH 
ATTENTION TO OUR HEALTH.  THIS REVOLUTION HAS BEEN MADE." 
 
11.  (U) IN ADDITION TO AGE, PART OF THE BIRTHDAY HYPE 
FOCUSED ON CASTROS PHYSICAL SAFETY.  THE AUGUST 11 
EDITION OF "JUVENTUD REBELDE" CARRIED A FULL-PAGE 
ARTICLE FEATURING INTERVIEWS WITH THREE 0F CASTR0S 
PERSONAL MINISTRY OF INTERI0R B0DYGUARDS.  FOLL0WING THE 
AUGUST 13 EVENING NEWS, A BRIEF DOCUMENTARY ENTITLED 
"BRAVE AND LOYAL" RECALLED FIDELS BODYGUARDS 0VER THE 
YEARS. 
 
12.  (C) COMMENT:  DESPITE THE OFFICIALLY-FESTIVE AIR, 
THE UNDERLYING MOOD HAS WISTFUL, LOOKING BACK T0 PAST 
EVENTS, NOT TO THE FUTURE.  N0TWITHSTANDING OFFICIAL 
DENIALS OF A CULT OF PERS0NALITY, THE C0NTINUING 
OBSESSI0N WITH THE PERSON 0F FIDEL CASTR0 STRONGLY 
SUGGESTS THE DEGREE TO WHICH REGIME SUPPORTERS BELIEVE 
THAT THE FATE OF FIDEL AND THE REV0LUTI0N ARE 
INEXTRICABLY INTERTWINED.  THE CELEBRATI0N 0F HIS 
SEVENTIETH BIRTHDAY SURROUNDED BY CHILDREN MAY ALS0 HAVE 
BEEN INTENDED TO SHOW HOW THE REV0LUTIONARY TORCH HAS 
BEEN PASSED AND ACCEPTED BY Y0UNGER GENERATIONS.  THE 
1994 RAFTER CRISIS WOUNDED THE REVOLUTIONS IMAGE BY 
SHOWING THE DISAFFECTION OF THE TWENTYSOMETHING 
GENERATION, THE FIRST GENERATION BORN AND EDUCATED UNDER 
THE REVOLUTION. 
 
13. (C) FIDEL SEEMS -- IN HIS WALK, GESTURES, ETC. -- 
OLDER THAN HIS SEVENTY YEARS.  YOUNGER BROTHER HAUL 
EASILY OUTWITTED HIM IN A CHILDRENS GAME PLAYED DURING 
THE BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION IN WHICH EACH COMPETED TO LIST 
ITEMS BEGINNING WITH THE LETTER "M":  FIDEL STUMBLED 
AFTER PROFERRING "WOMEN" (MUJERES) AND "MACEISTAS" 
(INDEPENDENCE FIGHTERS).  THESE LAPSES NOTWITHSTANDING, 
THERE ARE PROBABLY STILL MANY YEARS OF LIFE LEFT IN THIS 
AGING T0TALITARIAN REBEL. 
 
K0ZAK 

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