Seeking former stature, Fidel Castro strikes out – with his pen

The Cuban leader has broken his eight-month public silence with three fiery statements.

Suddenly, three appeared in a row – missives signed by Fidel Castro and laced with the bombastic rhetoric that has long defined the Cuban leader's opinion of US foreign policy.

But Mr. Castro's first publicly written statements, eight months after surgery prompted him to temporarily cede power to his brother Raul Castro, analysts say, is a struggle for significance on – not a retaking of – the world stage.

"He is trying to show that he is relevant, he is alive. That he is writing, he is thinking, he hasn't disappeared from the picture," says Jaime Suchlicki, the director of the Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies at the University of Miami and author of "Cuba: From Columbus to Castro."

Lashing out at a biofuel proposal by the US and Brazil to use crops to produce ethanol, Castro penned columns in the March 29 and April 4 issues of Granma, the Communist Party daily. Claiming the plan would hurt the hungry, he titled one article, "The Internationalization of Genocide."

This week he railed against the recent US court decision allowing Luis Posada Carriles, the jailed Cuban militant wanted in Cuba for the jetliner bombing of 1976, to post bail. It is, he opined in a letter circulated by Cuba's Foreign Ministry, tantamount to setting free "a monster."

Since his illness, Cuban officials have continuously voiced public optimism that their iconic leader will someday resume leadership, while the US intelligence community has speculated that Castro was unlikely to survive. Most say reality falls somewhere in between. "He has been relegated by his illness. He has no energy, capacity, or strength to run the day-to-day operations, or work 15 hours like he used to do," says Mr. Suchlicki. "He is allowing his brother to run the country."

While Castro has always had a flair for imparting his worldview, his latest communications may signal a new role that the government is trying to carve out for him, should he recuperate enough to accept it.

"I think the question is, if Fidel Castro remains alive and active, what do you do with him? They are trying to carve out a portfolio for him within Cuba – one that focuses mainly on international issues, which doesn't interfere with the domestic running of the country," says Dan Erikson, a Cuba expert at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington.

Despite what could become a shadow role on the domestic agenda, his opinions still resonate worldwide. The relationship between Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez and Castro has vexed the US, and as long as Mr. Chávez supports Cuba's philosophy and finances, through discounted oil and other projects, the alliance will loom large. The columns criticizing ethanol production, analysts say, are a sign that Cuba is concerned about how much a US-Brazil partnership may threaten the regional influence of its alliance with Venezuela.

"It was a public show of support for Chávez," says Ian Vasquez, director of the Cato Institute's Center for Global Liberty and Prosperity. "His criticism has always had resonance because of who Fidel is. That really hasn't changed."

Still, this doesn't mean that he is on the verge of a comeback. "The basic fact remains that he has not been seen in public since July 2006. While there have been statements that he is active in government affairs, taking walks on the beach with [Colombian writer Gabriel García] Márquez, penning Op-Eds and editorials," says Mr. Erikson, "it's hard to know whether to accept this at face value."

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