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HavanaJournal.com: Cuba Politics

The aging mind of absent President Fidel Castro

Posted May 30, 2007 by publisher in Cuba Politics.
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Fidel’s Reflections by Brian Latell

As of May 23, eleven strangely arcane “reflections” penned or inspired by Fidel Castro have been disseminated by Cuban government media. The first appeared in Granma, the communist party daily, on March 28, eight months after Castro’s first surgery and “provisional” withdrawal from power. Three more were issued in April followed by a cluster of seven in May, the last three on consecutive days. They convey Castro’s intent and tone but unmistakably required the assistance of others in his entourage.

Two themes “the perils of global climate change and criticism of biofuels production” are repeated, although the “reflections” are interspersed with a variety of other musings, both personal and political. The personal ones, especially recollections on May 14 about his parents and the isolated “sugarcane plantation” where he was born are unprecedented in their candor. I do not believe he has ever spoken so honestly about his mother Lina Ruz Gonzalez, who he described as “a very poor Cuban peasant girl.”

From 1959 until he ceded power last year Fidel never penned ruminations resembling those of the last two months. And no pattern or purpose is discernible in them that might explain what motivates him to expound in these ways. In part his musings appear to be the genuine meditations of an old man nearing his end. It is likely also true that he is restless now that he is physically somewhat stronger, and wants to be back in touch, even in this remote fashion, with the Cuban and international audiences he craves.

On May 23 he wrote, “My health has been improving and my weight is stable at about 80 kilos.” But he also made clear in that missive that his condition remains serious, perhaps still precarious. “There is no danger greater than that related to age and to a state of health which I abused during some of the hazardous times I lived through.”

For the first time he also seemed to signal that he does not anticipate returning to govern as he did in the past. “Nowadays I do what I should be doing, especially reflecting and writing . . . I have a lot pending.” Those sound like the plaintive words of one resigned to the role of an emeritus leader who intends, voluntarily or not, mostly to pontificate.

This new “emeritus” Fidel Castro bears almost no resemblance to his earlier self. Today he is detached and seemingly disinterested in Cuba’s policy dilemmas and needs. His “reflections” hardly touch at all on issues of concern to the Cuban people or their leaders who conduct the country’s domestic and foreign affairs. He has never mentioned or referred to his brother Raul, or any other Cuban official for that matter. There has been no hint of approval or disapproval of the manner in which they have governed in his absence. He has said nothing about the challenges the communist party or any government ministries and agencies face. He has written nothing at all about military issues. He has not penned a word intended to assuage, reassure, or shape the attitudes of the Cuban people about their day-to-day dilemmas.

Castro’s musings “always described by the Cuban media as “reflections” rather than policy prescriptions or pronouncements—are bereft of instructions or even veiled advice to his successors about how they should be conducting their business. For the first time since January 1959, therefore, his words are not binding on others. Raul’s influential daughter Mariela made that point robustly last month in Spain. Fidel, she said, “is very respectful and does not want to interfere in the decisions” being made by his successors.

Castro confirmed that reduced role himself in his May 23 “reflection.” “I cannot say or criticize everything that I know, because if I did, human and international relations would be impossible.” That phraseology might be interpreted as indicating that, relatively helpless and isolated in his convalescent quarters, Fidel is being censored and muzzled by his successors.

The often venomously anti-American Fidel has not emerged full-blown in the “reflections.” He is critical of the Bush administration and the American “empire,” but throughout the eleven musings generally avoids the kind of recrimination and extreme attacks of the past. His April 10 “reflection,” for example, was dedicated mainly to the case of Luis Posada Carriles, accused by Cuba of international terrorist activities. Yet, in cataloguing a long list of grievances he attributes to the CIA and Posada, including “his dozens of plans financed by the government of the United States to physically eliminate me,” Castro never mentions the CIA by name. And, there are only infrequent references to the American economic embargo of Cuba or the Helms-Burton act of 1996.

This new, more constrained Castro also never mentions Marx, Lenin, or communism as such. Unlike his practice through all the decades of his fiery rhetoric, he closes the “reflections” without appending the once familiar incantatory slogans, “Patria o Muerte” or “Venceremos.” There are instead Chinese fortune cookie style bromides that appear at the end of some of the reflections.

On April 3 he closed with the strange comment, “As can be seen, there are many dark faces to a polyhedron.”

On May 7 he wrote, “Every sinister idea must be submitted to devastating criticism, avoiding any concession.”

And on May 16 he closed with the observation that, “I recommend to my readers to pay attention to the complexities of human activity. It is the only way to see much further.”

Whatever may actually be occurring within the Cuban leadership in the process of drafting, reviewing, and publishing these “reflections” by Fidel, the final seemingly inescapable conclusion is that this is an entirely different, depleted and diminished man than the one who controlled every important aspect of Cuban life for more than 47 years.
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I want to acknowledge the help that was provided in the preparation of this article by my University of Miami student research assistant, Vanessa Lopez.
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Dr. Brian Latell, distinguished Cuba analyst and recent author of the book, After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro"s Regime and Cuba"s Next Leader, is a Senior Research Associate at ICCAS. He has informed American and foreign presidents, cabinet members, and legislators about Cuba and Fidel Castro in a number of capacities. He served in the early 1990s as National Intelligence Officer for Latin America at the Central Intelligence Agency and taught at Georgetown University for a quarter century. Dr. Latell has written, lectured, and consulted extensively.

Welcome to The Latell Report. The Report, analyzing Cuba’s contemporary domestic and foreign policy, is published monthly except August and December and distributed by the electronic information service of the Cuba Transition Project (CTP) at the University of Miami’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies (ICCAS).
The Latell Report is a publication of ICCAS and no government funding has been used in its publication. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ICCAS and/or the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

The CTP, funded by a grant from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), can be contacted at P.O. Box 248174, Coral Gables, Florida 33124-3010, Tel: 305-284-CUBA (2822), Fax: 305-284-4875, and by email at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)

Member Comments

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On May 30, 2007, publisher wrote:

I have commented on the quality of the content written by absent President Fidel Castro but this article really sums it up nicely.

The Cuban people are watching their “star player” fade away mentally and politically.

Who is going to stand behind this Fidel? This Fidel who is nearly 81 years old who never appears in public and apparently cannot or will not because he doesn’t have time to groom his beard or get dressed in the morning.

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On May 31, 2007, Wajiro wrote:

Raul is 75 and with Liver Damage from alcoholism.
Ramon is 80 and senile.
Looks to me like Aldana is the next candidate.