Re­cu­per­at­ing Cas­tro ‘in charge’ in Cuba

The Washington Times Weekly - - World - By Car­men Gen­tile

MI­AMI — Ail­ing Cuban Pres­i­dent Fidel Cas­tro’s ubiq­ui­tous track suit ap­pears less baggy th­ese days, and his once-sal­low cheeks seem fuller and rosier — signs, some say, that the com­mu­nist leader may be ready to take back the coun­try’s reins af­ter nine months of in­terim lead­er­ship un­der brother Raul.

Venezue­lan Pres­i­dent Hugo Chavez, a close ally of Mr. Cas­tro, said last week that the 80-year-old leader, suf­fer­ing from a mys­te­ri­ous gas­troin­testi­nal ail­ment, is “in charge” and was pre­par­ing a reemer­gence to pub­lic life on May Day, an in­ter­na­tional work­ers’ day rec­og­nized es­pe­cially in Latin Amer­ica.

“Fidel is in charge. Fidel is in charge,” Mr. Chavez said in Venezuela dur­ing a meet­ing of left­ist lead­ers from the re­gion, in­clud­ing Bo­li­vian Pres­i­dent Evo Mo­rales, with whom Mr. Cas­tro has also forged close ties in re­cent years.

Over the April 28-29 week­end, Mr. Mo­rales was quoted in Bo­li­vian news me­dia say­ing he was cer­tain Mr. Cas­tro would re­sume the lead­er­ship of the is­land he ruled since seiz­ing power in 1959 un­til last July, when his younger brother, De­fense Min­is­ter Raul Cas­tro took tem­po­rary charge dur­ing Fidel Cas­tro’s ill­ness.

Since then, Mr. Cas­tro has only ap­peared in videos — of­ten in the com­pany of Mr. Chavez — and in pho­tos pub­lished in Cuba’s staterun publi­ca­tions and other Latin Amer­i­can news­pa­pers.

Pho­tos taken af­ter Mr. Cas­tro’s nu­mer­ous surg­eries showed him look­ing frail, of­ten ly­ing in bed or sit­ting in a wheel­chair.

For months af­ter the an­nounce­ment of Mr. Cas­tro’s ill­ness, U.S. intelligence of­fi­cials spec­u­lated that Fidel Cas­tro was suf­fer­ing from both Parkin­son’s dis­ease and Crohn’s dis­ease, an in­flam­ma­tion in the di­ges­tive tract, and would never re­turn to power.

In De­cem­ber, U.S. intelligence chief John Ne­gro­ponte said that Mr. Cas­tro had “months, not years” to live.

Cuban-Amer­i­cans in Mi­ami cel­e­brated his step­ping down in July, and city of­fi­cials planned for a cel­e­bra­tion at the Orange Bowl af­ter Mr. Cas­tro’s ex­pected death.

It ap­pears, how­ever, that Mr. Cas­tro’s foes will have to wait a while longer for the demise of “El Pres­i­dente,” as his health im­proves and he re­sumes his work­load.

Last month, Mr. Cas­tro met in Ha­vana with top Chi­nese of­fi­cial Wu Guanzheng, a mem­ber of the Polit­buro Stand­ing Com­mit­tee of the Com­mu­nist Party of China. China’s Xin­hua news agency re­ported that the meet­ing took place in a Cuban hospi­tal.

Bei­jing is a ma­jor trad­ing part­ner of Ha­vana, and the two coun­tries did nearly $2 bil­lion in busi­ness last year. Mr. Wu also met then with the younger Mr. Cas­tro, with whom he signed a bi­lat­eral agree­ment on eco­nomic and tech­ni­cal co­op­er­a­tion — a sign that Cuba’s lead­er­ship might re­main a co-pres­i­dency as long as Fidel Cas­tro is alive.

“It cer­tainly looks in­ter­est­ing,” said To­mas Bil­bao, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Wash­ing­ton-based Cuba Study Group, con­ced­ing that Mr. Cas­tro in­deed looks health­ier.

“I’d still be cau­tious to come to the con­clu­sion that he is re­sum­ing his power,” he added.

Mr. Bil­bao spec­u­lated that the last nine months were a “re­hearsal” of sorts for Raul and those clos­est to Fidel for the day the Cuban pres­i­dent does die.

Oth­ers like Larry Birns, di­rec­tor of the Coun­cil on Hemi­spheric Af­fairs, con­tend that the in­terim lead­er­ship is a win­dow into what a postFidel Cuba would look like.

Mr. Cas­tro’s ill­ness “was a par­tial pre-re­vi­sion of what it would look like in a post-Cas­tro Cuba,” said Mr. Birns. Raul Cas­tro has kept a firm grip on Cuba since the han­dover in July. In April, a jour­nal­ist and a lawyer were im­pris­oned as dis­si­dents and sen­tenced to four and 12 years in prison, re­spec­tively.

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