By Dalia Acosta
HAVANA TIMES, Aug. 26 (IPS) – When more than a few people in Cuba were thinking that they would never again see him “so vital,” national television surprised them with the unannounced broadcast of a video showing Fidel Castro recovered from the illness that forced him to step down from power three years ago.
“Incredible” was the most common reaction on Sunday night among people who called each other by phone with the question of the moment: “Did you see him.” Others, regardless of political inclination, told family members, “Look, on TV, they’re showing Fidel.”
“He’s standing firm,” commented Susana Rodríguez, a store employee.
Seven minutes of a three-hour meeting between several young Venezuelan lawyers and the former Cuban president were shown on the evening Cuban news. Likewise, a photo was published that same day on the front page of the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, where Fidel Castro appeared alongside Ecuadoran president Rafael Correa.
[Another 24-minute segment of the meeting with the Venezuelans is set for broadcast on Wednesday evening.]
Leaving behind the house shoes and pajamas of a convalescent, Fidel Castro is seen wearing a white sport shirt in the photo with Correa. In the picture he is conversing animatedly, explaining his ideas about current issues such as climatic change. The image was a far cry from the bed struck individual we have seen for the last few years.
“He will never be the same after what happened. At his age it’s impossible to recover from an illness like when you’re 30,” had thought Norma Guzmán, a 44 year old high school teacher who had “lost hope of seeing him this way, on his feet and fighting.”
In the video, which can be downloaded from the CubaDebate website, Castro speaks about global warming and even refers ironically to the decision of the US Pentagon to include climate change as a national security threat.
“We are confronting very, very, very serious events. In the face of any tragedy people can do a great deal, they can do almost the impossible,” he affirmed, adding however, “A person who doesn’t create will never be revolutionary.”
Will He Now Appear in Public?
Only a few days after celebrating his 83rd birthday, on August 13, the image of the revitalized former president raised the possibility of his retaining his position as secretary general of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC), the sole post that he continued to carry out after turning over the head of the government to his brother, Raul Castro.
The decision, which is likely to be made at next congress of the PCC, was automatically evaded when President Raul Castro announced that this meeting would be postponed until needed preparation is completed, which includes consultation with the public.
Will he reappear in public or not? That is now the key question in a country where opinions remain divided. While Fidel Castro was sick and weakened, it was not very probable that he would appear in public; but what will he do if he feels fully capable of returning to the podium and the microphone?
“Here, no one ever knows what is going to happen, so you have to interpret the signs, because nothing is done without a reason. It’s very significant that after seeing him deteriorated, thin and almost unable to speak, we went for more than a year without seeing a picture of him, and now we see him so well,” said an analyst who requested that he not be identified.
Observers who were consulted agreed with the decision to transmit this latest video showing Fidel Castro in good health.
The Cuban public had not seen him on film since June 17, 2008, during a visit by Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez. In those images, which also showed his brother Raul, the former leader is barely heard saying one brief phrase: “Ever onward toward victory.”
After that transmission he was virtually absent from the media, with even his regular column titled “Reflections” seldom appearing.
Normality seemed to return this past January with the publication of photos during the visit made to him by Argentinean president Cristina Fernandez.
“Raul needs Fidel; and more than his serving as a ‘consultant.’ (Fidel) continues to be an important factor in maintaining unity in the country. Here today you can hear very ordinary people say they are “fidelistas” (pro-Fidel), but not communist,” said Patricio Suarez, 45, a graduate in Marxist philosophy.
Few doubt the influence of the older Castro in the life of the nation. That certainty was fed by the current leader, who – when assuming their position in February of 2008 – requested before parliament that he be allowed to continue consulting “The leader of the Revolution” on significant decisions.
In a country where symbolism is important, Fidel Castro’s seat remains empty in meetings of the National Assembly (parliament) – as if the leadership want to note both his absence and, at the same time, his permanent presence.