Cuba celebrates Fidel Castro’s 90th birthday with music and fireworks

Havanas annual carnival is combined with concert for ailing former president, who is not expected to make public appearance

Cubans celebrated former president Fidel Castros 90th birthday by partying on the Malecn seafront in Havana as an electrical storm lit up the night sky.

On the stroke of midnight a band played Happy Birthday on a plaza outside the new US embassy while fireworks exploded on the other side of the bay.

Colourful floats carrying dancers and salsa bands stretched for miles down the Malecn as Havanas annual carnival was combined this year with Castros birthday concert.

This is the best gift we can give him, this party, said Leydis Campos, 25, a dancer in a lime green outfit, her eyelids caked in glitter. To 90 years past, and to 90 more!

Performers
Performers on the way to the parade. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters
Cuba has gone into overdrive this month honouring Castro, who led its 1959 revolution and built a Communist-run state on the doorstep of the United States, surviving what it claims were hundreds of assassination attempts along the way.

Tributes have ranged from the conventional, such as photo exhibits about his life, to the outlandish, such as the longest cigar in the world, measuring 90 metres, rolled in Castros honour.

While many Cubans criticise Castro for having restricted personal freedoms and imposed a Soviet-style command economy, others revere him for having freed Cuba from US domination and provided universal access to healthcare and education.

Fidel is the best thing that happened to our country, said Aldo Zamora, 40, selling balloon animals.

People
People look at pictures of Fidel Castro during a break in a concert celebrating his birthday. Photograph: Alexandre Meneghini/Reuters

Castro handed over power in 2008 to his younger brother Ral after an intestinal ailment nearly killed him, although he retained the title Historic Leader.

Since then he has ventured into public rarely, looking increasingly frail and sporting comfortable tracksuits and trainers instead of his trademark olive green military uniform.

He is not scheduled to appear in public for his festivities, although he could meet Cubas ally Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan president, who arrived in Havana early on Saturday.

Some Cubans say they miss the charismatic leader who accompanied them for decades, holding forth on topics from nuclear energy to farming in famously long speeches. His words gave us a sense of confidence, said Yadira Escudero, 25.

But even those partygoers said they welcomed the changes that had taken place since the more pragmatic Ral took power, such as market-style reforms, detente with the United States and greater personal freedoms such as the right to travel.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2016/aug/13/cuba-celebrates-fidel-castro-90th-birthday-music-fireworks

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