Wednesday, 27 August 2014 | MYT 5:00 PM

Little Fidel meets Big Fidel, happiness ensues

There’s one boy in Cuba who’s happier than the rest – and it’s all because of Fidel Castro.

An 8-year-old Cuban boy who likes dressing up as Fidel Castro is one very happy chap after his fashion statement recently earned him and his family a rare invitation from Cuba’s 88-year-old retired leader to his Havana home for a chat.

“I felt a lot of emotion upon seeing Fidel,” says Marlon Mendez from his home near Havana, referring to the Aug 16 visit to Castro’s home. “The whole family hugged him. It was my dream to meet Fidel, and I did it. My mother was shaking.”

Mendez appeared on Cuban television on Aug 12, a day before Castro turned 88, and drew attention for his fashion homage to Castro, donning the retired leader’s green fatigues, army boots and cap. Thanks to the media publicity, Castro was made aware of his doppelgänger's existence, and duly extended an invite to his young fan.

Cuban idol: Mendez shows a photo of him meeting his idol at Castro's residence in Havana. The former state leader of Cuba invited his young fashion follower and his family for a visit after Mendez was featured on Cuban telly for his Fidel outfit.

As expected, Mendez wore his costume to his meeting with Castro though two items were missing – Castro’s trademark beard and cigar. Castro was frequently seen puffing on a Havana until he quit smoking in 1985.

Many Cubans either love or respect Castro for standing up to the US and leading the one-party state for so long, but some dismiss him as a dictator. Not Mendez though, who proudly shows off photographs of his meeting with Castro and a hand-written note in which the ageing revolutionary refers to his young fan as “my great friend Marlon Mendez”.

The boy’s grandmother, Maria Elvira Hernandez, says the chat with Castro about agriculture and Venezuela – Cuba’s close socialist ally. “Eight-eight years are 88 years. But a lot of 88-year-olds would like to be like him,” says Hernandez. “We want Fidel around for a lot longer.”

Due to failing health, Castro handed power to his younger brother Raul Castro, at first provisionally in 2006 and then permanently in 2008. In retirement, Fidel Castro has traded his habitual military uniform for a tracksuit. He has mostly withdrawn from public view, occasionally writing columns or receiving foreign leaders. – Reuters

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