Young fan gets to meet Fidel Castro

Fidel Castro invited an 8-year-old fan and his family to his home in Havana.

Still grab from a video taken on 8 January 2014 of former Cuban president Fidel Castro. Picture: AFP

SAN ANTONIO DE LOS BANOS - All that's missing is the beard of an 8-year-old Cuban boy who likes to dress up as Fidel Castro.

The child got to meet his idol after Cuba's 88-year-old retired leader invited him and his family to his Havana home for a chat.

"I felt a lot of emotion upon seeing Fidel," Marlon Mendez told Reuters on Monday from his home near Havana.

"The whole family hugged him. It was my dream to meet Fidel, and I did it. ... My mother was shaking."

Marlon and his family went to visit Castro on 16 August, upon the invitation of the retired leader who is revered by some and detested by others for leading the Cuban revolution of 1959 and remaining in power for 49 years.

The boy likes to dress in green fatigues, army boots and cap as Castro once did.

Marlon wore the costume to his meeting with Castro, but without Castro's trademark beard and cigar.

Castro was frequently seen puffing on a Havana until he quit smoking in 1985.

Marlon was first featured on Cuban television on 12 August, a day before Castro turned 88.

His bedroom wall is decorated with dozens of pictures of Castro, in contrast to the bed made with Snoopy sheets.

After Marlon appeared in the media in his Castro costume, first on Cuban television and later in Reuters photographs, his family received the invitation.

Marlon showed off pictures of his meeting with Castro and a handwritten note in which the aging revolutionary referred to "my great friend Marlon Mendez."

The boy's grandmother, Maria Elvira Hernandez, said they talked about agriculture and Venezuela, Cuba's close socialist ally.

"88 years are 88 years. But a lot of 88-year-olds would like to be like him," Hernandez said.

"We want Fidel around for a lot longer."

While many Cubans love or respect Castro for standing up to the United States and leading the one-party state for so long, others dismiss him as a dictator.

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, Castro has traded his habitual military uniform for a track suit.

He has mostly withdrawn from public life, occasionally writing columns or receiving foreign leaders.