HAVANA – In his May Day appearance last year, ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro spoke for more than three hours, deriding the Bush administration’s planning for a post-Castro Cuba as “laughable.”
A couple of months later, the American plan seemed prophetic: Cuba’s aging president underwent emergency intestinal surgery, temporarily ceding power to younger brother Raul, the defense minister.
The capital was abuzz Monday with speculation that Castro will choose today, International Workers Day, to make his first public appearance since July. Each May 1, the regime celebrates with a mass demonstration in Revolution Plaza.
“I cannot confirm or deny he will be there. I haven’t the least idea,” Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba’s National Assembly, said Monday.
Whether he appears or not, Castro’s recovery is remarkable for an 80-year-old man who seemed to be wasting away and to have only months to live after surgery, analysts said.
“My guess is (Castro) will make an appearance,” said Wayne Smith, former head of the U.S. Interests Section. “I don’t know whether he’ll be on the reviewing stand, but he will be somewhere around. They’ve made such a thing of it that now they almost have to show him.”
Castro has been receiving dignitaries and friends, such as Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Last week he met with an official delegation that included a senior figure in the Chinese Communist Party, Wu Guanzheng.
“Companero Fidel exchanged ideas with the Politburo member for an hour,” Cuba’s state-run newspaper, Granma, reported. The newspaper is running lengthy editorials under Castro’s name for the first time since his illness.
Raul Castro, 75, took over the provisional government on July 31 and the communist island’s leadership appeared headed on a different path. The state-run media carried exposes on rampant corruption. Intellectuals openly criticized the re-emergence of cultural censors from another era.
The younger Castro, who is said to be a strong supporter in private enterprise, publicly criticized food shortages and transportation problems. He publicly encouraged greater debate among Cubans.
But Fidel Castro’s recovery and return to power, even a partial comeback, has renewed uncertainty about the future, according to Cuba analysts. If anything, his return signals that not much will change.
“Raul can’t really hand down new policy directions that might not meet with the approval of Fidel,” Smith said. “Everything does sort of have to be on hold.”