Ailing leader Fidel Castro saluted the Cuban people for their 50 years of resistance against the United States in a written message read on state television shortly before the first minutes of the New Year.
"During the course of the morning, the 49th year of the Revolution will have been left behind and we will have fully entered the 50th year, which will symbolize a half century of heroic resistance," said the message read by a television presenter shortly before midnight. The broadcast showed old photographs of the Cuban leader. "We proclaim to the world with pride this record which makes us believe in the most just of our demands: that there be respect for the life and the wholesome joy of our nation." Cuba will mark the 50th anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the revolution that brought Castro to power a year from now, but is already characterizing all of 2008 leading up to that date as the "50th year of the revolution." The 81-year-old Castro has not been seen in public in the 17 months since he announced he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding his powers to a caretaker government led by his younger brother Raul, the 76-year-old defense minister. Fidel's exact ailment and condition are carefully guarded state secrets, but Raul Castro recently told voters in the eastern city of Santiago that his brother is doing well enough that Communist Party leaders support his candidacy to be re-elected as a deputy to Cuba's National Assembly, or parliament, on Jan. 20. When the new parliament meets on a still unspecified day in early March for the first time after the national elections, deputies will elect a new ruling Council of State ÃÂ¢€" Cuba's governing body. At that time, they will also have to decide whether to retain the elder Castro as the council's longtime president. Fidel has not said directly whether he would seek to retain the post, but recently indicated he could be thinking about retirement