Cuban President Raul Castro turned 80 on Friday, vowing to rejuvenate the country's aging leadership and its sagging economy.
No official events took place as he joins Cuba's club of octogenarians, which already boasts his brother Fidel Castro, 84, and his second in charge, Jose Ramon Machado Ventura, who is 80.
At a recent summit of the Communist Party, Castro said one of his last duties as head of government would be to pave the way for successors.
Today we face the consequences of not having a reserve of adequately prepared substitutes, with the experience and maturity to assume the new and complex work of leading the party, the state and the government, he said.
But on Thursday when seeing off former Brazilian president Lula da Silva, Raúl insisted it was a shame he could not retire because he was less than half way through the first of two possible five-year terms, thus hinting he would stand again for the presidency in 2013.
If he were to retire his presumed successors are of the same generation -- vice-president Jose Ramon Machado is also 80, and close confidant Ramiro Valdes is 79.
However in a radical break from the past, Castro has paved the way for more private enterprise, encouraging Cubans to open small businesses and pay taxes on their endeavors.
Cubans have bought more than 200,000 licenses allowing them to go into business for themselves since last October. At the same time, Castro announced massive layoffs in the state sector that will eventually mean the elimination of more than 1 million jobs.
Reform has reached agriculture where families are allowed to farm their plots and sell directly to consumers at market prices. Cuba with ample farmland to feed its population is desperate to cut its imported food bill, mostly from the US and Brazil and which is two billion US dollars per annum.
In that line of action the scheme of free lunches for almost everybody has been gradually abolished and will be limited to the really needy.
Even when there were no plans to mark Raul 80th birthday on Friday, officials anticipated that a grand celebrations is programmed for his elder brother Fidel's 85th in August.
Former president Lula da Silva was in Cuba where he met with both Castro brothers, Raul and Fidel, to visit the construction of the Mariel port, 43 kilometres west of Havana. The port restructuring was subsided with a US$ 300 million credit line awarded during Lula da Silva’s term. Lula reported to be “happy” with his trip and his meeting with the Castros.