Nearly two dozen singers and musicians from nine Latin American nations honoured Fidel Castro with a concert on the eve of the former Cuban leader’s 85th birthday.
Dubbed the Serenade to Fidelity, the spectacle was a “homage to the life of a man, of a people, of a nation and of a revolution”, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said.
“It will be little next to what he deserves,” said Alfredo Vera, one of the organisers, as the concert got under way.
Neither Fidel nor his younger brother, President Raul Castro, was at the concert, which saw many of Cuba’s other leaders attend, including Vice President Jose Ramon Machado Ventura.
Fidel Castro has been out of power since 2006, when he was stricken with a nearly fatal intestinal illness and temporarily ceded the presidency to his brother Raul.
The elder Castro permanently renounced the presidency in 2008.
Fidel Castro is rarely seen in public these days, and he seemed unsteady on his feet when he made a showing at a Communist Party Congress in April, walking to his seat with the help of an aide.
At that same gathering, the party named a leadership council without him on it for the first time in five decades, leaving Fidel Castro with no official position.
Yet even in retirement, Fidel Castro casts a long shadow. 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.
“I think the issue is how long (Fidel) is going to linger on and how long he’s going to meddle in the government,” said Ann Louise Bardach, a longtime Cuba watcher and author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington.
“As long as he is alive and he is compos mentis, he’s not going to change his thinking,” Ms Bardach said.
“He’s not going to have an epiphany about economic policy. He’s going to do what he always did, which is the preservation of the revolution at all costs.”
Fidel Castro has been a prolific writer of newspaper columns and books in recent years, including autobiographical accounts of the events that led him to take power in a 1959 revolution.
Fidel Castro has published just one opinion column since late May, though it’s not unusual or unprecedented for his pen to go silent for extended periods.
Omara Portuondo, the Grammy-winning singer of Buena Vista Social Club fame, was the big draw for the show at Havana’s 5,000-seat Karl Marx Theatre.
The playbill also included regionally known performers such as Venezuela’s Cecilia Todd, Uruguay’s Daniel Viglietti, Chile’s Pancho Villa and Argentina’s Liliana Herrero.
But the night’s real star was undoubtedly Fidel.
“It’s a feeling of love. The serenade is a genre that is born out of love,” Viglietti said at a news conference earlier this week.