Castro Signals Resumption of Public Role

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 29, 2007; 4:31 PM

HAVANA -- Fidel Castro signaled Thursday he is itching for a return to public life after eight months of illness that has kept him out of sight, lambasting U.S. biofuel policies in a front-page newspaper editorial.

But Castro's scathing attack in the Communist Party daily left unanswered what role he will play in politics and government, and when he might appear again in public.

In his article, the 80-year-old revolutionary asserted that President Bush's support for using crops to produce ethanol for cars could deplete corn and other food stocks in developing nations, putting the lives of 3 billion people at risk worldwide.

"There are many other issues to be dealt with," Castro added at the end of the editorial, apparently promising more such missives.

Unlike several other written messages signed by Castro since he fell ill, this one did not seem aimed at dispelling rumors about his health and didn't even mention he has been sick.

"This shows a more aware and lucid Castro than that suggested by the wan pictures we've seen over the past few months," said Cuba specialist Wayne Smith, who served as America's top diplomat in Havana from 1979 to 1982.

"My own take is that this does not presage some early return to power," Smith said. "Rather, it is a matter of Castro wanting to get his two cents in about a subject he cares much about."

Castro's future role has been the source of much speculation, especially in the last few months amid increasingly optimistic reports about his recovery from senior Cuban officials and family members.

Castro's condition and exact ailment remain a state secret, but he is widely believed to suffer from diverticular disease, a weakening of the walls of the colon that can cause sustained bleeding.

While some seem confident he will resume the presidential role he temporarily ceded to his brother Raul on July 31, others think it more likely he will take on a less physically demanding post as elder statesman, weighing in on international issues while Raul and a new collective leadership handle domestic affairs.

Castro "no longer has the physical capacity to sustain his previous activity," said Manuel Cuesta Morua, a center-left Cuban intellectual and dissident. Before he fell ill, Castro was famous for his exhausting schedule, often staying up all night to entertain visiting foreign leaders and speaking extemporaneously on live television for hours.

"Because he cannot do it physically in the "Mesa Redondas," this is his way of saying: 'I'm here!'" Cuesta Morua added, referring to Castro's past frequent hours-long appearances on the government's nightly "Round-table" program.

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