During an hour-long current affairs show that aired Monday night in Cuba, Mr. Castro avoided discussing the current events of Cuba. He even steered clear of the top issue on the minds of most: the release of 52 political prisoners that began today as seven were freed after flying to Madrid.
As with all things Castro, speculation is rife. What's behind the timing of the appearance? Was he trying to put a mark on the prisoner release deal – reached last week between Cuba, Spanish officials, and the church – which has generally been greeted positively on the world stage? Or was it the contrary: an unspoken message that Cuba is not letting down its guard? Or was it simply a coincidence, one that keeps Cubans and the world guessing as they so often have over the former president's reign?
Fidel sported a track suit, spoke in hoarse tones
Fidel Castro appeared on "The Round Table" last night in a customary track suit (this time a dark blue one, over a plaid shirt). He's sported track suits since he fell ill in 2006 and handed over the helm of the country to his younger brother, Raúl Castro. He appeared in good condition and at times spoke dramatically, even if his voice is no longer the robust one of his youth, when he overthrew dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959 and became the archenemy of the US.
His main topic was a warning about the consequences of US aggression in the Middle East and other hotspots in the world, particularly if conflict were to break out in Iran. "The worst [for the US] is the resistance they will face there, which they didn't face in Iraq," he said. He also addressed tensions in North Korea.
He read off sheets of paper, from his own writings and essays written by thinkers who share his ideology.
Cubans interviewed after the appearance, which may have been taped and aired later, said they were pleased to see their leader make a re-emergence after so much time behind the scenes – even though most are more interested in the political prisoner release. The first seven prisoners and their families arrived in Madrid's international airport today.
The significance of his words was, in many ways, less important than the appearance itself.
"His reappearance, after all this time, underscores the fact that he is not gone in body or in spirit," says Dennis Hays, former State Department coordinator for Cuban affairs. "I continue to believe that he exercises a brake on any change or progress that anyone else in Cuba might want to make."
Most of Fidel Castro's statements in recent years have come in the form of essays or letters, in the Communist-run Granma newspaper. Most of his latest written warnings have been about what is ahead on the world stage because of US actions.
On Sunday, the day before his appearance, he wrote that his motive is to “warn international public opinion of what was occurring,” insight he has gleaned by “observing what happened, as the political leader that I was during many years, confronting the empire, its blockades and its unspeakable crimes."
"I don't hesitate in running risks of compromising my modest moral authority," he wrote. "I will continue writing 'Reflections' about the topic."
His appearance comes on the heels of another public sighting, when the former president headed to the National Center for Scientific Research in Havana. Photos of the visit appeared over the weekend and were published in Granma Monday morning.