Fidel Castro to turn 86, but out of view since June

Sun Aug 12, 2012 12:59pm EDT
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By Jeff Franks

HAVANA (Reuters) - Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro turns 86 on Monday, out of sight, but not out of mind as Cubans wonder about his future and theirs at a time of change in one of world's last communist countries.

The bearded leader who was a constant presence and transfixed Cubans for decades with his fiery rhetoric, still holds a special place in the hearts and minds of the Caribbean island's 11 million residents, even as age and infirmity force him farther into the background.

He has been out of view for almost two months, not having appeared in any way or published one of his occasional opinion columns in the state press since June 19.

His absence has added to the speculation about his health that has been ever present since he underwent emergency intestinal surgery in 2006 and ceded power to younger brother Raul Castro.

This is not his first extended absence since falling ill, but Cubans wonder each time whether he will not be back.

"He must be very sick because there's been nothing of him for a while," said Donato Torres, puffing on a cigarette outside a Havana restaurant.

"In any moment it's going to come out in the news that he died. His character doesn't allow him to be silent - he always has to say something."

Only his Twitter account has been active but all the tweets are simply links in the press. Twitter accounts in the name of politicians and other people in the public eye are often run largely by their aides.   Continued...

A photograph of former Cuban President Fidel Castro taken by Castro's son Alex Castro, is seen during an exhibition in Havana July 10, 2012. REUTERS/Enrique de la Osa