Fidel Castro redux. Why he's talking so much now.

In an interview with The Atlantic, Fidel Castro talks Iran and Israel. The Cuban ex-president is attempting a return to the world stage – this time as an international statesman.

Desmond Boylan/Reuters
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro speaks during a meeting with students at Havana's University September 3.

Fidel Castro has taken on his most public role in Cuba since falling ill in 2006 and handing power to his younger brother, Raul Castro.

An interview with Jeffrey Goldberg, national correspondent for The Atlantic, is the latest in a series of appearances and overtures to journalists by Mr. Castro, who invited Mr. Goldberg to Cuba after reading his recent article on Israel and Iran.

Last month, he granted an interview to the Mexican daily La Jornada, describing the severity of his illness and taking responsibility for the persecution of homosexuals during his leadership.

Castro first appeared in the spotlight in July after years in the shadows, penning columns and being seen in rare taped videos. He started with small appearances, including to the aquarium, and then went on television. He addressed the Cuban National Assembly. Last Friday, he donned full military fatigues and gave his first major public speech in more than four years.

“I think they are staging in very gradual ways his reintroduction to public life,” says William LeoGrande, a Cuba expert at American University in Washington.

It could be that Castro’s appearance comes now because he simply has recovered and feels well enough to be seen. But it also comes at a time when Cuba has released the largest number of political dissidents in years, when Cuba faces an acute economic crisis, and when debate between hard-liners and reformists is believed to be brewing within the island nation.

“He chose a moment when he felt the revolution is threatened,” says Mauricio Font, director of the Cuba Project and Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies at the Graduate Center, City University of New York.

In almost all of his recent writings and public appearances, Castro has focused on tensions with the Middle East and threats of nuclear war, particularly because of growing hostilities between the US and Iran.

When Goldberg asked Cuba expert Julia Sweig, who accompanied him to Havana, to explain both the invitation by Castro and his view on Iran, she explained: "Fidel is at an early stage of reinventing himself as a senior statesman, not as head of state, on the domestic stage, but primarily on the international stage, which has always been a priority for him.

"Matters of war, peace, and international security are a central focus: Nuclear proliferation, climate change, these are the major issues for him, and he's really just getting started, using any potential media platform to communicate his views."

Goldberg also questioned Castro on the Cuban missile crisis and whether past experience informs his current views on nuclear war.

“At a certain point it seemed logical for you to recommend that the Soviets bomb the US. Does what you recommended still seem logical now?" Goldberg asked.

Castro reportedly answered: "After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it all."

The state-run media in Cuba has been publishing Castro's global views in a column called "Reflexiones," and at the University of Havana speech, students lined up to listen to him detail threats to global peace and the responsibility Cuba has to play in the world.

He has said nothing about the current domestic events in Cuba, which Mr. LeoGrande views as a deliberate move not to interfere with his brother’s presidency.

Many international observers have speculated about the degree to which Castro opposes his brother's ideas.

“The fact that he is not talking about any of those issues says to me he is not interfering, he is not an obstacle,” LeoGrande says.

But most Cubans, says Mr. Font, care more about the economy, job opportunities, and issues that affect their daily lives. Castro's avoidance of those issues could backfire.

“He does not have the same charisma or persuasive powers as he had before,” Font says. “People want to move forward, there are real changes in Cuban society.”

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