In his first official government act in four years, Fidel Castro only spoke for about 10 minutes to the Cuban Parliament Saturday, nowhere near the hours-long orations that marked nearly 50 years of the revolutionary leader's presidency.
And instead of thundering on about Cuba and the issues that most Cubans care about, including economic reform and freedom of expression, he stayed close to the subjects that have marked his words since ceding power to his younger brother Raúl Castro, including the threat of nuclear war and climate change.
“If there is a war, the current social order will disappear abruptly and the price will be immensely higher,” Mr. Castro said at the Parliament Saturday morning. "The planet's population could be regulated. Renewable resources can be preserved. Climate change can be prevented.”
“What continues to be noteworthy is that he is speaking about everything but Cuban domestic policy,” says Philip Peters, a Cuba expert at the conservative Lexington Institute think tank in Arlington, Va. “He has said nothing about prisoner releases, and nothing about economic policy.”
Fidel's recent appearances
In the past few weeks, Mr. Castro, who reportedly came close to death in 2006 when he temporarily, and later permanently, stepped down from office, has reappeared in public life, making appearances to small groups and granting an interview aired on state television.
In his performance Saturday, he wore the standard olive-green uniform of his past rather than the track suit that has come to symbolize his recovery period.
Analysts have long suspected Castro of wielding considerable clout in the political affairs of the country behind the scenes. He is still head of the Communist Party, and writes in the state communist newspaper Granma. His recent appearances have raised speculation that he will assume a more public role after years in almost complete seclusion.
Most of his writings and themes have revolved around potential US-led attacks against Iran and North Korea and the dire consequences for each scenario. His reemergence in Cuba comes as President Raúl Castro announced that government controls on small businesses will be scaled back and as Cuba moves forward in its promise to release political prisoners.
Last week, the award-winning blogger Yoani Sanchez, a Cuban critical of the government, wrote a column translated and published in The Washington Post, saying that Castro's reappearance has generated conflicting emotions.
“Many analysts have pointed out that the man who was known as the Maximum Leader is hardly qualified to assess the innumerable problems in his own country …,” she wrote. “This pattern is familiar, with his discussions of the world's environmental problems, the exhaustion of capitalism as a system and, most recently, predictions of nuclear war. Others see a veiled discontent in his apparent indifference toward events in Cuba. Yet this thinking forgets the maxim: Even if he doesn't censure, if Caesar does not applaud, things go badly. It is unthinkable that Fidel Castro is unaware of the appetite for change that is devouring the Cuban political class; it would be naive to believe that he approves.”
His supporters seemed to care little about what he said Saturday, putting their attention on the appearance itself. As he entered Parliament, members called out in unison, “Long live Fidel!”
Castro spoke briefly and then sat next to Ricardo Alarcón, who is the head of the Parliament. It was his first joint appearance with his brother Raúl since the handover of power.