Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro made very few public appearances in the lead up to his death on Friday due to what many speculated was his frail health that led to his retirement. "El Comandante,” who handed over the Cuban presidency to his brother Raul in 2008, suffered from severe gastrointestinal issues for years, which left him frail and were likely the cause of his reclusive last decade. But the last public appearance Castro made was to mark a very special milestone for the revolutionary — his 90th birthday.
Castro made a rare public appearance on August 13 as the guest of honor at his birthday gala. According to Reuters, Cuba threw a multi-day celebration to mark his nine decades on earth. Throughout the weekend, there was dancing, music and fireworks at a giant street party at Havana’s Malecon boulevard. Castro appeared at a gala held at the Karl Marx theater, which featured children’s theater, music and a video compilation all honoring his accomplishments as the leader of Cuba, and the festivities were broadcast on state-run television. As the Guardian noted, even that paled into comparison to his 80th birthday celebrations when he was still leading the country and in better health.
Although Castro didn’t speak at the gala, he did pen an opinion piece published by state media in which he thanked the people of Cuba for their support, reminisced about his childhood in the eastern part of the country and criticized U.S. President Barack Obama. "I want to express my deepest gratitude for the shows of respect, greetings and praise that I’ve received in recent days, which give me strength to reciprocate with ideas that I will send to party militants and relevant organizations," he wrote.
Obama visited the country in March as part of the efforts to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba. Castro did not meet with Obama, but had sharp criticisms for the U.S. leader in his August letter. The Guardian writes that Castro criticized Obama for not apologizing to the Japanese people during his trip to Hiroshima. Castro also wrote a letter to the president after his visit, seemingly spurred on by his anger over a speech that Obama gave to the people of Cuba during his visit to look forward to the future. Castro concluded that "we don’t need the empire to give us anything."