Cubans pay tribute to late defense minister

AP News
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Posted: Sep 05, 2011 12:43 PM
Cubans pay tribute to late defense minister

Thousands of Cubans paid tribute to late Defense Minister Julio Casas on Monday, filing silently past a larger-than-life photo of the fallen revolutionary as flags around the country flew at half staff. State television showed footage of President Raul Castro and other Communist Party leaders laying flowers in a show of respect.

Casas, who died Saturday at the age of 75, ran the military's lucrative economic enterprises for decades before becoming defense minister. An accountant by training, he fought in the revolution alongside Raul, and took part in Cuban military interventions in Africa.

Fidel Castro, who has not been seen in public since April, apparently did not attend the ceremony, but the former leader sent a floral offering that was prominently displayed. Neither brother has issued public comments about Casas, but he has been hailed as a hero in state-run media since his death was announced.

Cuba's Communist Party newspaper Granma stripped its front page of color on Monday and published historical photos of Casas's life.

Of the thousands who filed through the Defense Ministry on Monday at Havana's sprawling Revolution Plaza were young and old, military officers, nurses, doctors and others, some dressed formally, others in casual jeans and multicolored T-shirts.

The general's death drew inevitable attention to the health of other members of Cuba's graying revolutionary generation, though most of those attending the ceremony said they were unconcerned.

"We're not worried about the age of our leaders because we trust in the revolution and in those who will take their place," said Maria de los Angeles Lujan, a government worker attending the memorial.

Elsewhere on the streets of Havana, some were less sanguine, noting the country is mired in a long economic slump.

"Logically, one is worried about the ages of those at the top," said Joel Ibanez, a 22-year-old Havana resident. "But I have to confess things are so bad here that whoever is in charge, young or old, I don't see how they can fix things."

Raul Castro turned 80 this year, his No. 2 is the same age and his third in command is 79. Fidel, who no longer holds any public office, is 85.

Fidel's frail appearance at a Communist Party summit in April and silence in recent months has prompted speculation among hopeful Cuban exiles that he may be seriously ill, though those who have seen or spoken to him recently, including Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, say he is in fine health.

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Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.

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Paul Haven can be reached at http://www.twitter.com/paulhaven