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Cuba Celebrates Castro’s 85th Birthday

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Cubans hold up pictures of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a concert waiting for his 85th birthday, late on August 13, 2011, at the Karl Marx theater in Havana. (Source: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

Cubans hold up pictures of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a concert waiting for his 85th birthday, late on August 13, 2011, at the Karl Marx theater in Havana. (Source: ADALBERTO ROQUE/AFP/Getty Images)

MIAMI (CBS4)- Fidel Castro marked his 85th birthday behind closed doors Saturday, but celebrations for the revolutionary icon began Friday in Cuba.

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.

A music concert Friday for the former Cuban leader, organized by the Guayasamin Foundation, featured 22 artists from Cuba and seven countries, according to the Cuban News Agency.

“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.”

Fidel Castro

(Source: Omara Garcia Mederos/AFP/Getty Images)

The former president didn’t make it to his own birthday bash — hardly a surprise since he appears infrequently since he stepped down in 2006, at first temporarily, and then permanently in 2008, due an intestinal illness that he later said nearly killed him.

Nor did his younger brother and presidential successor, Raul Castro, attend.

Also Saturday, an exhibition featuring works by artist Nelson Dominguez and Castro’s son Alex, a photographer, opened at the Jose Marti Memorial in Havana.

At Friday’s celebrations, “the spirit of Ecuadorian painter Oswaldo Guayasamin” permeated the event held at the capital’s Karl Marx Theater. Guayasamin, a close friend of Castro, managed to convince Fidel to accept the celebration of his birthday back in 1988, the Agency reported.

Planned was a three-hour performance, including Uruguayan artist Daniel Viglietti, Omara Portuondo of Cuba, Pablo Nuevo of Ecuador, Cecilia Todd of Venezuela, Liliana Herrero and Raly Barrionuevo of Argentina and Ricardo Flecha of Paraguay, the Agency reported.

Also offering their art were Braulio Lopez of Uruguay, Chile’s Pancho Villa, the Cuban groups Buena Fe, Anonimo Consejo and Moncada and vocalists Maria Victoria and Candido Fabre.

Portuondo, the Grammy-winning singer of Buena Vista Social Club fame, was the headliner for Friday night’s show, dubbed the “Serenade of Fidelity.”

But the real star was the absent Fidel, whose defiance of the United Sates continues to inspire leftist movements around the world.

The event was broadcasted live by Cuban television, as well as by Radio Progreso and Radio Havana Cuba radio stations.

Unprecedented Transgender Wedding

To mark the occasion, a Cuban transgender woman and gay man planned on getting married on Saturday.

The Advocate reported that 37-year-old Wendy Iriepa and 31-year-old Ignacio Estrada will tie the knot Saturday in Havana in an effort to emphasize the significance of their union for Cuba’s LGBT community.

Iriepa’s sex-change operation was reportedly paid for by the Cuban state. It’s the first-of-its-kind wedding for the island.

Gay marriage is not legal in Cuba. Saturday’s wedding does nothing to change that since Iriepa is legally considered a woman.

But the wedding is a sign of how much the country’s attitude toward sexuality has changed.

Gays and transsexuals were routinely persecuted in the 1960s under Fidel Castro’s revolutionary government. Castro has since said that was a mistake.

A Look Back

Castro has been officially out of government but holds veto power over brother Raúl’s plans for economic reforms and hopes for improved U.S. relations.

Over the years, Fidel has made unusually public appearances after a near-fatal health crisis in 2006 that forced him out of the limelight.

Yet, he remains the iconic leader of a revolution that has ruled Cuba for five decades — as well as, up until recently, first secretary of the governing Communist Party. Raúl, 80, succeeded Fidel as president in 2008, but remains second secretary of the party.

His first appearance was at the National Center for Scientific Investigations in Havana on July 7 — the very day Ortega announced Raúl had agreed to free 52 political prisoners. Fidel has never mentioned the prisoner release, the biggest since 1998, in public, CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald reported.

On July 26, 2010, Fidel delivered a floral arrangement at the monument to independence hero José Martí in Havana, at the same time Raúl was in the central city of Santa Clara for the official act marking the start of the revolution. Despite widespread anticipation that Raúl would unveil some economic reforms, he did not speak in Santa Clara.

And on Aug. 7, 2010, Fidel addressed a special session of the legislative National Assembly of People’s Power, which he had requested, in his first official government act since 2006, the Herald reported.

April 19, 2011: For the first time since it’s founding 46-years-ago Castro was not included in the leadership of Cuba’s Communist Party. The news came on the last day of the Cuban Communist Party Congress. It also came on a day when Fidel made a surprise appearance at a meeting of the Communist Party Congress to the sound of thunderous applause.

The revolutionary icon looked unsteady on his feet as he clutched the aide’s arm, and at times slumped in his chair. Many could be seen crying as he was helped to his place on stage, then stood at attention next to his brother during the playing of Cuba’s national anthem.

On June 28, 2011 several new photos featuring Fidel Castro and a recovering Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez were aired on Cuban television. Both Chavez and Castro wore track suits and Cun state TV said the two leaders were in the company of family members and “reminisced about the past.”

For all Fidel Castro related stories, click here.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald, the Cuban News Agency and The Advocate contributed material for this report)

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