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Learning English - Words in the News
13 August, 2007 - Published 14:29 GMT
Fidel Castro's birthday
Fidel Castro

The president of Cuba, Fidel Castro, is 81 today and for the first time in years there will be no official celebrations to mark his birthday. Mr Castro has been ill since last year when he was forced to hand over the leadership temporarily. This report from Simon Watts:

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When he was in good health, Fidel Castro enjoyed celebrating his birthday in public. Concerts were laid on, Cubans would wave flags at parades and children would share slices of cake. The events gave Mr Castro an image of being "father of the revolution"; his absence today is further confirmation that he's unlikely to play the same role again.

But although Fidel Castro dominated Cuban political life for nearly fifty years, his illness hasn't created a leadership vacuum. His brother, Raul - acting president now for over a year - is credited with keeping the Cuban people calm and the government united. Raul Castro has moved his supporters into key positions, while the powerful Cuban army - which he leads - has been given a bigger role in overhauling the economy.

Many analysts think the transition to a Raul Castro presidency is well underway, even though his ailing brother insists he's being consulted on the key decisions. But the real test for the survival of the Cuban system will still come when Fidel Castro dies. This could be the catalyst for bottled-up social tension, or rivalry within the government to break out, even though observers generally think Cuba is more likely to experience a slow, orderly transition to a more open system.

Simon Watts, BBC

Listen to the words

laid on
here, held

further confirmation
yet more proof

was the most important person, had control over Cuba

leadership vacuum
when there is no clear leader

credited with
praised for, responsible for

overhauling the economy
restructuring and improving the economy so that every part of it works properly

well underway
evidently happening

ill, unfit

an event or person that causes great change

when a person bottles things up, they refuse to talk about things that make them angry or worried, or express their feelings/thoughts

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