Cuba celebrates Fidel Castro's 85th birthday


Cubans hold up pictures of former Cuban president Fidel Castro during a concert for his 85th birthday at the Karl Marx theater in Havana.



Cuba marked Saturday's 85th birthday of former leader Fidel Castro, with a gala event in Havana held on the eve of his big day – although the ailing revolutionary did not make it to his own party.

Dubbed the "Serenade of Fidelity", musicians and dancers from across Latin America performed a concert on Friday night at Havana's Karl Marx Theatre.

Al Jazeera reported that the event's key billing was Grammy-winning singer Omara Portuondo, of Buena Vista Social Club fame. Also playing were Venezuela's Cecilia Todd, Uruguay's Daniel Viglietti, Chile's Pancho Villa and Argentina's Liliana Herrero.

Reports say first Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura was the highest ranking government official at the concert, which was attended by foreign dignitaries. But President Raul Castro was a notable absence.

Of the the organizers, Alfredo Vera, told the Associated Press news agency:

What we say in the songs of our invited artists will be little next to what he deserves. Congratulations, beloved and eternal comandante.

There were no official celebrations scheduled on Saturday to mark Castro's birthday.

Castro led Cuba for nearly 50 years before health issues temporarily forced him from power in 2006. He then stood aside permanently in 2008, when his younger brother took the reins.

(Read more on GlobalPost: As homes go up for sale in Cuba, racial and class lines return)

His last public appearance was at a Communist Party Congress in April, where he walking to his seat with the help of an aide.

Recent images also showed both Castro brothers greeting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who flew back and forth to Cuba last month for cancer treatment.