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Cuba's Fidel Castro makes first extended public appearance since 2010

Marcelino Vazquez / Ain Foto via Reuters

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, 86, speaks to reporters at a polling station in Havana on Sunday. The appearance marked Castro's first extended period in the public eye since 2010.

HAVANA — Retired leader Fidel Castro voted in Cuba's general election on Sunday and chatted with well-wishers and local reporters in Havana for more than an hour in his first extended public appearance since 2010.

Castro had voted from his home in three previous elections since taking ill in 2006 and ceding power to his brother Raul two years later.


A stooped, snow-white-bearded Castro, 86, was seen on state-run television as he cast his ballot in the late afternoon, wearing a blue plaid shirt and light blue jacket.

The announcer said Castro talked about efforts to reform the economy, Latin American integration and other matters, including ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

He was heard in a weak voice praising popular participation in Sunday's election.

"The people are truly revolutionary. They have really sacrificed. We don't have to prove it; history will. Fifty years of the (U.S.) blockade and they haven't given in," he said.

A look at the life and times of the Cuban leader who has outlasted nine U.S. presidents.

Cubans went to the polls to elect a Communist Party-selected slate of 612 deputies to the National Assembly and more than 1,000 delegates to provincial assemblies during a time of change in how they live and work but not in how they vote.

President Raul Castro and other leaders were also shown on television casting their ballots and commenting on the importance of the election as a show of support for reforms and independence from the United States.

Raul Castro is decentralizing the state-dominated economy, allowing more space for private initiatives in agriculture and retail services, and he has lifted many restrictions on personal freedoms, such as travel and buying and selling homes and cars.

He has also introduced term limits (two five-year stints) for top government posts, but he has drawn the line at legalizing other political parties and contested elections.

Ted Piccone, deputy director of foreign policy at the Washington think tank the Brookings Institution, said Raul Castro's policies provide interesting insights for observers of the government, which continues to have a tense relationship with the United States.

"The one-party elections in Cuba, alongside steady but slow progress on opening the economy, represent how the current regime intends to manage change on the island -- giving the people more space to participate in the economy while controlling their role in politics and civic life," Piccone said. 

Some 95 percent of Cuba's 8.7 million residents over 16 years of age were expected to cast ballots with polling stations on just about every block. Abstention is frowned upon.

'All revolutionaries'
Reuters talked with more than half a dozen voters before they entered the polls in Havana. None of them knew the candidates on the national slate from their districts.

"What's certain is they are all revolutionaries and that's what matters," said retiree Eduardo Sanchez.

"I vote because I feel I have to, and it doesn't really matter because the deputies have no power anyway," said one young woman, who declined to give her name.

The curious read biographies of candidates posted at the polls, then cast paper ballots in cardboard voting boxes guarded by school students.

Others simply entered the polls and checked a box for the entire slate.

The candidates were equal to the number of positions up for a vote, the only alternative being to not vote for a certain candidate or leave blank or spoil the ballot.