by Eliza Barclay | The New Republic
With the probable exception of Osama bin Laden, no one individual’s death is more anticipated that Cuban leader Fidel Castro’s. After 48 years at the helm, he is the longest-serving current ruler of a country. Eager anticipation of the 81-year-old’s death is nothing new, of course: Since seizing power in 1959, he has been the target of as many as 638 assassination attempts, and various injuries and illnesses in past years have also fueled speculation that his end was near. His most recent affliction, an unidentified intestinal illness that forced him to cede power to his brother Raul last summer, has only increased his many opponents’ impatience for his final departure.
In the last two months the rumor mill had taken on a new intensity, with louder and more aggressive assertions that he was long-gone. For several consecutive Fridays in August, reports detonated in the blogosphere, the mainstream media, and on the streets of Cuban-exile communities around the world that Castro’s passing had finally arrived. No official announcement from Havana ensued, suggesting that the rumors were false, but many people who generated the rumors stood firm on their sources, and insisted that the Cuban government is hiding the fact that Castro is truly dead.
One of the allegations that generated the greatest hype came from a surprising source: Mario Lavandeira, a.k.a. Perez Hilton, a Miami-born celebrity blogger of Cuban heritage, who typically doesn’t cover international politics. Lavandeira announced on August 24 that high-level sources had revealed to him that Castro was dead and that the announcement from Havana would happen at exactly 4 p.m.
According to Univision, the Spanish-language media giant, readers of Univision.com called in around the same time claiming that the news was “confirmed” and demanded that the company update its website with the news immediately.
Both Hilton and many members of the Miami Cuban-exile community, including posters on Univision message boards and callers on local radio stations, believe that Castro has been dead for weeks, if not months, despite the lack of acknowledgment from Havana. Even though Castro was interviewed in September on Cuban television and appeared in a photo with Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos, Lavandeira and others have refused to take back their assertions that he is dead.
But right now, obviously, there isn’t any conspiracy to conceal Castro’s death. And when he does pass, there won’t be. The Cuban government has acquired an image as adept at lies and cover-ups. Though the reputation has stuck, it’s in large part a myth of the government’s own making. Insofar as it speaks to a desire to conceal Castro’s death, there isn’t much behind it.