Castro skips May Day march

HAVANA – There was no sign of a convalescing Fidel Castro as hundreds of thousands of Cubans marched through Havana’s Revolution Plaza to celebrate May Day, casting new doubts on his recovery and whether he will return to power.

Tuesday marked only the third time in nearly five decades that Castro has missed the sweeping International Workers’ Day festivities – a major celebration here and around the world.

While recent images of Castro meeting with Chinese leaders indicated he had improved considerably since undergoing emergency surgery nine months ago, his absence at the parade through the Revolution Plaza raised questions about whether he is strong enough to run the country.

The 80-year-old leader has missed two other major events since announcing his illness on July 31 and temporarily ceding power to his 75-year-old brother Raul Castro, the defense minister. Raul presided at the Nonaligned Summit in September and a major military parade in December.

“It now seems more unlikely than before that he will fully resume the presidency,” said Wayne Smith, the former head of the American mission in Havana. “And the more time that passes, the more unlikely it seems.”

Smith said that with Castro failing to show Tuesday, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s assertions this week that Castro was back “in charge” appeared to be “a lot of hot air.”

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