HAVANA — Revolutionary icon Fidel Castro marked his 85th birthday behind closed doors Saturday as the aging leader famous for railing against Washington increasingly fades from the spotlight — even if his outsize persona continues to cast a long shadow over Cuban society and U.S. relations.
There were no announcements of how Castro planned to spend the day, though the previous night two dozen musical acts from across Latin America held a concert in his honor.
"What we say in the songs of our invited artists will be little next to what he deserves," Alfredo Vera, one of the organizers, said late Friday. "Congratulations, beloved and eternal comandante."
The former president didn't make it to his own birthday bash — hardly a surprise as he appears infrequently since he stepped down in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently in 2008, due to an intestinal illness that he later said nearly killed him.
Nor did his younger brother and presidential successor, Raul Castro, attend. Instead, first Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who also delivered the keynote address for Revolution Day on July 26, was the highest ranking among several government officials in the presidential seats at Karl Marx Theater.
A gregarious speaker as president, Fidel Castro is seen publicly these days in official still photographs and video footage, such as recent images showing him with Raul and Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is receiving cancer treatments in Cuba.
Gray-bearded and his hair thinning, Fidel Castro seemed unsteady on his feet when he made a surprise showing at a Communist Party Congress in April, walking to his seat with the help of an aide. It was at that same gathering that the party for the first time named a leadership council without him on it, as he left his last official position.
Yet even in retirement, Castro has continued to be a player on the island. Raul has said he consults with his older brother, and some Cuba-watchers say his presence has acted as a brake on reforms that Raul is betting will save the island's economy by loosening some state control.