Amid US-Cuba thaw, no word from Fidel

The retired Cuban leader has made no public statement on the end of the stalemate that defined his country's relationship with the world.

Everyone in Cuba is talking about the startling turn in relations with the United States, with one notable exception: Fidel Castro.

So far, the larger-than-life retired Cuban leader has made no public comment on the biggest news in years — that the U.S. and his island nation will restore diplomatic relations after more than 50 years of hostility.

His brother, President Raul Castro, announced the historic shift in a surprise television appearance Wednesday and there was speculation he could address it again during the Cuban National Assembly, which started one of its twice-annual sessions Friday.

Among those speaking out on the topic was Raul Castro's daughter, Mariela Castro. She said moves by President Barack Obama to ease some travel and trade restrictions with the island are welcome but won't lead to the downfall of the communist system.

"If the U.S. thinks these changes will bring Cuba back to capitalism and return it to being a servile country to hegemonic interests of the most powerful financial groups in the U.S., they must be dreaming," she told The Associated Press.

But it's her famously bearded uncle who has long personified the Cuban revolution and its defiance of Washington. And he's not known for being reticent. He once set a record for the longest speech at the U.N. General Assembly — 4 hours and 16 minutes — and he's been known to weigh in on such topics as the Israel-Palestinian conflict in lengthy editorials.

When he suddenly went silent in 2011, there was speculation about the health of the elderly former leader, and now there is again.

Writer and Cuba expert Ann Louise Bardach says rumors swirl that the 88-year-old Castro never fully recovered from a series of surgeries that prompted his retirement.

"Even if he were in perfect health, he's of a certain age," said Bardach, author of "Without Fidel" and "Cuba Confidential."

Another explanation is that Fidel Castro is staying out of the limelight because, officially at least, his brother runs the country. Government officials won't discuss such a sensitive issue, and many ordinary Cubans shrug it off.

"He'll come out later," 19-year-old English student Enriqueta Nieto said of Fidel Castro. "But I think he's fine."

Obama said Fidel Castro's name came up only briefly in his phone conversation this week with Raul. The U.S. president said he opened the call with a 15-minute statement, then apologized for talking so long.

Obama said Castro responded, "You're still a young man and you still have a chance to break Fidel's record. He once spoke for seven hours straight."

The U.S. president said the Cuban leader then delivered an opening statement at least twice as long as his. "I was able to say it runs in the family," Obama quipped.

It's not clear if Raul Castro brought up restoration of relations at Friday's National Assembly session, which was not open to the public.

On the midday newscast, there was no mention of any discussion of U.S. relations. State TV reported the economy minister, Marino Murillo, gave an update on moves toward eliminating Cuba's unwieldy dual-currency system, which since 1994 has created two pesos: one roughly pegged to the dollar and another, worth about 1/25th the convertible currency, which most ordinary Cubans get paid in. The bi-annual session was expected to resume Saturday.

For years after he left office in 2006 due to illness, Fidel Castro penned editorials, called "Reflections," that dutifully were printed in official media and read verbatim on state TV newscasts. In October 2012, he said he was retiring as a columnist, but has since published occasional opinion pieces to comment on world events.

The elder Castro rarely appears in public these days. He last was seen on Jan. 8 when he attended an art exhibition in Havana. The last official photos showed him meeting in July with Russia's President Vladimir Putin and China's President Xi Jinping in Havana. In August, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro said he met with him and showed photos of their encounter. His last written commentary, about Cuba's efforts to fight Ebola, was in October.

Still, it's not entirely unusual that Castro has yet to weigh in on this week's news. He waited six days before commenting last year on the death of Hugo Chavez, the Venezuelan president who was a close friend and ally.

And it's possible the former president is just slowing with age.

"I think that Fidel is a little bit older and his activities are very limited, that's for certain," said Maria Teresa Ojito, a 66-year-old language teacher.

But, she said, "I'm not very worried because Raul is the one who's running the country. ... Really, the one who has to make decisions these days and enter into dialogue is Raul, not Fidel."

Pedro Pablo Rodriguez who, like Castro, is retired, also points to his age. "He's older and he's likely very excited about these things," the 80-year-old said. "Possibly, we just have to wait until he recovers, but I'm sure he will be fine because he's a strong man."

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.

QR Code to Amid US-Cuba thaw, no word from Fidel
Read this article in
https://www.csmonitor.com/USA/Latest-News-Wires/2014/1221/Amid-US-Cuba-thaw-no-word-from-Fidel
QR Code to Subscription page
Start your subscription today
https://www.csmonitor.com/subscribe