News

Is Fidel Castro coming back?

Frances Robles
McClatchy Newspapers (MCT)

The photos of a stronger and healthier Fidel Castro meeting with a high-level Chinese delegation published in Cuba's principal newspaper Saturday are perhaps the most significant sign so far that the ailing leader is not just getting better, but getting back to business too.

Castro and top members of his cabinet met Friday with Wu Guanzheng, a member of China's Communist Party Politburo who headed a delegation of visiting Chinese officials, the Granma daily reported.

"Companero Fidel exchanged ideas with the Politburo member for an hour," the paper said. "The encounter was very profound and fruitful."

Two pictures showed the 80-year-old Castro in a black and red jogging suit and looking generally healthy. They were a far cry from photos taken early into Castro's illness, which showed him severely underweight and laying in bed.

"I am impressed and surprised," said University of Miami Institute for Cuban and Cuban American Studies research associate Jorge Pinon. "I think it's a sign he's getting better."

Although Pinon said he doesn't not necessarily believe Castro will ever return to work as he once did, Saturday's photos were significant because of the senior rank of the foreign visitor.

If Castro was weak or incoherent, he would not have risked having that news spread through diplomatic circles, Pinon said. Showing Castro with Chinese leaders illustrates that he's not just physically looking better, but mentally prepared for such a meeting.

Prior to Saturday, Castro had mostly been photographed with close friends such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

On July 31, Castro's personal secretary read a statement said to be written by Castro, announcing that he had suffered intestinal bleeding and required surgery. The presidency was temporarily turned over to Castro's younger brother Raul, the defense minister.

While his health has remained a state secret, for months speculation abounded that Castro was on the brink of death. In January, the Spanish newspaper El Pais, citing sources close to doctors who examined him, said Castro had suffered life-threatening operations and infections resulting from diverticulitis, perforations of small pouches in the intestinal wall that weaken with age.

For months, senior Cuban cabinet members have insisted he was recovering and participating in government, but with a lighter work load. In the first signs that Castro was in fact feeling better, in the past weeks he published three editorials in the Cuban state media.

He railed against the use of food crops to produce ethanol, saying it would deprive the world's poor of food. Another article attacked the United States, saying Washington was protecting accused terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.

"Clearly this is the first picture of him working as opposed to convalescing," said Cuba expert Philip Peters, of the Lexington Institute think tank in Virginia. "It's definitely important, because three months ago, the psychology was that he wasn't coming back at all. This changes that."

Peters said early signs that Raul Castro was planning economic reforms seem to have tempered, suggesting Fidel is reining his brother in.

The Cuban media recently announced that a much-lauded academic commission formed to study problems with Cuba's system of socialist property would issue a report - within three years.

"That's a deep freeze," Peters said. "That is a sense that Fidel is coming back."

Other experts cautioned against reading too much into Saturday's photos, saying that if anything, they underscore the importance of China to Cuba. Saturday's Granma also showed pictures of the Chinese delegation meeting with Raul Castro, who has been known to favor Beijing's economic model.

Behind Venezuela, China has become a major trade partner with Cuba. The new household appliances in Cubans' homes and fleet of new buses whizzing down the highways were provided by China at favorable terms.

Trade with China last year doubled to nearly $2 billion, Cuban officials have said.

"Major decisions about the direction of the Cuban revolution will be something the old man will continue to have influence over," said National War College professor Frank Mora, who said there have been too many other signs that Castro has stepped aside and his brother is in charge.

Music


Books


Film


Recent
Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Street Art As Sprayed Solidarity: Global Corona Graffiti

COVID-19-related street art functions as a vehicle for political critique and social engagement. It offers a form of global solidarity in a time of crisis.

Music

Gretchen Peters Honors Mickey Newbury With "The Sailor" and New Album (premiere + interview)

Gretchen Peters' latest album, The Night You Wrote That Song: The Songs of Mickey Newbury, celebrates one of American songwriting's most underappreciated artists. Hear Peters' new single "The Sailor" as she talks about her latest project.

Music

Okkyung Lee Goes From Classical to Noise on the Stellar 'Yeo-Neun'

Cellist Okkyung Lee walks a fine line between classical and noise on the splendid, minimalist excursion Yeo-Neun.

Film

Alastair Sim: A Very English Character Actor Genius

Alastair Sim belongs to those character actors sometimes accused of "hamming it up" because they work at such a high level of internal and external technique that they can't help standing out.

Music

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's New LP Is Lacking in Songcraft but Rich in Texture

Kaitlyn Aurelia Smith's The Mosaic of Transformation is a slightly uneven listen. It generally transcends the tropes of its genre, but occasionally substitutes substance for style.

Music

Buzzcocks' 1996 Album 'All Set' Sees the Veteran Band Stretching Out and Gaining Confidence

After the straightforward and workmanlike Trade Test Transmissions, Buzzcocks continued to hone their fresh identity in the studio, as exhibited on the All Set reissue contained on the new box-set Sell You Everything.

Books

Patrick Madden's 'Disparates' Makes Sense in These Crazy Times

There's no social distancing with Patrick Madden's hilarious Disparates. While reading these essays, you'll feel like he's in the room with you.

Music

Perfume Genius Purges Himself and It's Contagious

You need to care so much about your art to pack this much meaning into not only the words, but the tones that adorn and deliver them. Perfume Genius cares so much it hurts on Set My Heart on Fire Immediately.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Confinement and Escape: Emma Donoghue and E.L. Doctorow in Our Time of Self-Isolation

Emma Donoghue's Room and E.L. Doctorow's Homer & Langley define and confront life within limited space.

Books

Political Cartoonist Art Young Was an Aficionado of all Things Infernal

Fantagraphics' new edition of Inferno takes Art Young's original Depression-era critique to the Trump White House -- and then drags it all to Hell.

Music

Folk's Jason Wilber Examines the World Through a Futurist Lens in 'Time Traveler' (album stream)

John Prine's former guitarist and musical director, Jason Wilber steps out with a new album, Time Traveler, featuring irreverent, pensive, and worldly folk music.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.