By Jeff Franks | Reuters
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, who has raised his public profile in recent days, met on Tuesday with a Chinese official and told him he spends his days gathering information and analyzing policy for Cuba’s leadership, state-run media reported.
After almost two years behind the scenes due to health problems, Castro has re-emerged in the past week with several high-level meetings and a spate of newspaper columns, including a biting blast at what he called the “enormous hypocrisy” of the European Union.
Cuban television said Castro and China’s top anti-graft official, He Guoqiang, had a “cordial and fraternal” meeting that included an invitation from He to the ailing 81-year-old to attend the upcoming Beijing Olympics.
Castro, the report said, spoke of “the advances of the Chinese people” and the “importance of the concept of socialism with Chinese characteristics.”
He also spoke about his brother, Cuban President Raul Castro, and the reforms he has made since formally taking office in February aimed at making Cuba’s state-run economy more productive.
Castro’s emergence, including the EU column, has raised questions about whether Castro was superseding his brother, whose foreign policy has been more measured, and about possible divisions within the government.
But Tuesday’s news report included a quote from Castro that made his role in Cuba’s government appear limited.
“What do I do? I help in gathering news and data and doing analysis about the most important international problems, which I furnish to the leadership of the (Communist) Party and the state,” he told He.
Castro said he dedicated “almost all the hours of the day” to the task of collecting a “great quantity of information.”
On Friday, in one of four columns he has written in the past week, Castro lashed out at the European Union after the 27-nation bloc voted to lift sanctions against Cuba, but said the Cuban government must improve human rights.
“I want to express my contempt for the enormous hypocrisy of that decision,” thundered Castro.
A day later, Castro assured readers of another column his harsh words did not mean the government was not unified.
“I am not, nor will ever be the leader of a faction or splinter group. No one has any reason to assume, therefore, that there are inner struggles in the Party,” he wrote.
The meeting with He, who is on a four-day visit to Cuba, followed meetings last week with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Uruguayan President Tavare Vazquez.
A video from a meeting with Chavez was shown on television in the first public images of Castro since January. There had been rumors his health was failing but he appeared vigorous.
Castro has been seen only in videos and photos since July 2006, when he underwent surgery for an undisclosed intestinal ailment and, after leading Cuba since a 1959 revolution, provisionally ceded power to his brother.