By Marc Frank | Reuters
Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro was nominated on Sunday for a seat in the National Assembly, a sign he may not be planning to step down as head of state despite struggling to recover from a long illness.
Castro, 81, handed over power temporarily to his brother Raul 16 months ago after life-threatening stomach surgery and he has not been since in public since. To formally remain president he must be a deputy in the assembly.
To cries of “Viva Fidel” (Long live Fidel), municipal councilors in Santiago raised their hands to unanimously approve Castro’s name on a slate of candidates for elections on January 20 to Cuba’s national parliament. Since 1976, Castro has represented Santiago, the cradle of his revolution.
Castro turned Cuba into a communist state at the doorstep of the United States after taking power in a guerrilla uprising in 1959.
His illness last year forced him to step aside for the first time since the revolution and allies say he was close to death at one point. But his condition then improved and he remains a power behind the scenes.
“During his convalescence he has continued to be actively involved in the country’s most important strategic decisions,” a biography attached to Castro’s candidacy said. Castro remains intellectually active, writing about the most pressing problems facing Cuba and the survival of the human species, it said.
In more than 60 columns published this year in Cuba’s state media, Castro has never mentioned the country’s future with or without him.
At its first session in March, the National Assembly must ratify the country’s top political jobs, a key meeting that will settle speculation about Castro’s possible retirement.
“The fact that he has been nominated as a candidate to the National Assembly does not necessarily imply that he will be on the Council of State (Cuba’s top executive body),” a government official said.
Castro has only appeared in official photographs and pre-taped videos, looking frail and grayer, and it is not clear whether he is strong enough to resume office. If he is too ill, the assembly could formally appoint Raul Castro as successor.
Many Cubans expect Fidel Castro to retire to the role of elder statesman similar to that played in later life by China’s Mao Zedong.
(Writing by Anthony Boadle, editing by Vicki Allen)