Castro may be back in business
New photos published of Fidel Castro show him looking fit and meeting
with a senior Chinese delegation.
BY FRANCES ROBLES
The photos of a stronger and healthier Fidel Castro meeting with a
high-level Chinese delegation published in Cuba's principal newspaper
Saturday are perhaps the most significant sign so far that the ailing
leader is not just getting better, but getting back to business too.
Castro and top members of his cabinet met Friday with Wu Guanzheng, a
member of China's Communist Party Politburo who headed a delegation of
visiting Chinese officials, the Granma daily reported.
''Compañero Fidel exchanged ideas with the Politburo member for an
hour,'' the paper said. ``The encounter was very profound and fruitful.''
Two pictures showed the 80-year-old Castro in a black and red jogging
suit and looking generally healthy. They were a far cry from photos
taken early into Castro's illness, which showed him severely underweight
and lying in bed.
''I am impressed and surprised,'' said University of Miami Institute for
Cuban and Cuban American Studies research associate Jorge Piñón. ``I
think it's a sign he's getting better.''
Although Piñón said he doesn't necessarily believe Castro will ever
return to work as he once did, Saturday's photos were significant
because of the senior rank of the foreign visitor.
If Castro was weak or incoherent, he would not have risked having that
news spread through diplomatic circles, Piñón said. Showing Castro with
Chinese leaders illustrates that he's not just physically looking better
but mentally prepared for such a meeting.
Prior to Saturday, Castro had been photographed mostly with close
friends like Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Colombian author
Gabriel García Márquez.
On July 31, Castro's personal secretary read a statement, said to be
written by Castro, announcing that he had suffered intestinal bleeding
and required surgery. The presidency was temporarily turned over to
Castro's younger brother Raúl, the defense minister.
While his health has remained a state secret, for months speculation
abounded that Castro was on the brink of death. In January, the Spanish
newspaper El País, citing sources close to doctors who examined him,
said Castro had suffered life-threatening operations and infections
resulting from diverticulitis, perforations of small pouches in the
intestinal wall that weaken with age.
For months, senior Cuban cabinet members have insisted he was recovering
and participating in government but with a lighter work load. In the
first signs that Castro was in fact feeling better, in the past weeks he
published three editorials in the Cuban state media.
He railed against the use of food crops to produce ethanol, saying it
would deprive the world's poor of food. Another article attacked the
United States, saying Washington was protecting accused terrorist Luis
''Clearly this is the first picture of him working as opposed to
convalescing,'' said Cuba expert Philip Peters, of the Lexington
Institute think tank in Virginia. ``It's definitely important, because
three months ago, the psychology was that he wasn't coming back at all.
This changes that.''
REINING IN RAUL
Peters said early signs that Raúl Castro was planning economic reforms
seem to have tempered, suggesting Fidel is reining his brother in.
The Cuban media recently announced that a much-lauded academic
commission formed to study problems with Cuba's system of socialist
property would issue a report -- within three years.
''That's a deep freeze,'' Peters said. ``That is a sense that Fidel is
Other experts cautioned against reading too much into Saturday's photos,
saying that, if anything, they underscore the importance of China to
Cuba. Saturday's Granma also showed pictures of the Chinese delegation
meeting with Raúl Castro, who has been known to favor Beijing's economic
Behind Venezuela, China has become a major trade partner with Cuba.. The
new household appliances in Cubans' homes and fleet of new buses
whizzing down the highways were provided by China at favorable terms.
Trade with China last year doubled to nearly $2 billion, Cuban officials
''Major decisions about the direction of the Cuban revolution will be
something the old man will continue to have influence over,'' said
National War College professor Frank Mora, who said there have been too
many other signs that Castro has stepped aside and his brother is in charge.
``Fidelismo is over as far as I'm concerned.''
To read Frances Robles' blog, Cuban Colada, go to the blogs section of
MiamiHerald.com, or go to http://miamiherald.typepad.com/cuban_colada/