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Despite recovery, don't expect Castro to return to power.

Nine months since the dynastic transfer of power, the possibility that Fidel Castro will reappear in public remains in doubt.

The first of May, international labor day, has always been among Castro's favorite holidays--one he has frequently used in the past to inform the Cuban people, attack the United States, and ruminate endlessly about whatever new concerns were on his mind.

Through last year he did not fail to speak on seven consecutive May Days. He did not appear on May 1, 2007, either.

Thus, like his failures to appear last September during the non-aligned nations conference, or on Dec. 2 on armed forces day, Fidel's protracted withdrawal increasingly points to the likelihood that he will not be able to return to the full exercise of power.

Cuban spokesmen have not been encouraging that expectation. Foreign minister Felipe Perez Roque said in Hanoi in mid-April that Fidel is "gradually recuperating."

Ricardo Alarcon, president of Cuba's National Assembly, said Apr. 25 that Fidel is "very well" but that "it will be preferable that he reappear on television before attending a mass public event."

Unintentionally, one supposes, Alarcon conveyed the impression of his commander-in-chief as a doddering old man now unable to make such day-to-day decisions himself.

All those around him realize that if Fidel were to be seen in public, rather than in a prerecorded TV session that could be edited, his every gesture, step, and word would be scrutinized for tremors or slips that might display his deterioration for all to see.

Perhaps the most unmistakable evidence of his debility came from his outspoken niece, Raul's daughter Mariela, who has been emerging as an unofficial Castro family and regime spokesman. She told Spanish reporters in late April that although Fidel is "rapidly improving," he will "not govern again in the same fashion as before."

She had some other remarkably candid things to say too. Since Fidel yielded power last July, "he has been very respectful in not wanting to interfere in the decisions being made." She added that "he is very careful not to influence the decisions" of his successors who have assumed huge new responsibilities.

Recent photographs released by the Cuban government suggest Fidel is physically stronger than before. He has recently been seen with foreign visitors, in one photograph standing for the first time, outside in a garden with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. In late April, after a meeting with a visiting Chinese Politburo member, he was reported by the Chinese government news service to have spoken "briskly," while "in good spirits and walking with a steady pace."

But he was photographed at that meeting again wearing baggy athletic clothes and, according to the Chinese account, remained after all these months in a hospital room. The Chinese probably intended no irony by expressing hopes for his "early recovery."

More than 80 years old, the cumulative toll of the three life-threatening surgeries Castro has reportedly endured has surely been devastating. In late April, a senior American intelligence official confirmed in a meeting with reporters that Castro indeed suffers from Parkinson's disease as well as diverticulitis and perhaps Crohn's disease, a debilitating inflammation of the digestive tract.

The brew of powerful medications he takes to treat his infirmities and associated pain probably has debilitating side effects.

If, as suspected, he was diagnosed with Parkinson's eight or 10 years ago, the medications to control its characteristic tremors and physical rigidities may no longer be providing much relief.

Some of those medications can cause intermittent cognitive impairment. Not surprisingly, therefore, the unnamed U.S. intelligence briefer told reporters that available evidence suggests Fidel's health remains precarious.

So if this analysis is generally correct, how much longer will it be before Fidel's official and final abdication? As Cuban leaders ponder that possibility, they should review the text of an important speech Castro delivered at the University of Havana in March 1966.

Without naming Mao Tse-tung, Castro denounced him and other elderly Chinese leaders with whom he was then bitterly at odds. Castro told his student audience that Mao should step down and pass power to a younger generation of leaders.

That is what he would do when he grew too old or infirm to govern effectively, Castro suggested. "When in obedience to biological law we become unable to run this country, we will know enough to leave our post to other men able to do it better."

Fidel was not yet 40 when he said this. He was healthy, filled with youthful audacity and self-confidence, not imagining that decades later his criticism of Mao might be turned against him.

So, as has been his custom when delivering such perorations, he reiterated the now incriminating thought to his audience: "We hope that all revolutionaries, as we become old, will be capable of understanding that we are biologically and lamentably old."

Brian Latell, author of the book "After Fidel: The Inside Story of Castro's Regime and Cuba's Next Leader," is a senior research associate at the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies. CubaNews profiled the ex-CIA official in our March 2007 issue (page 8).
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Title Annotation:Fidel Castro
Author:Latell, Brian
Geographic Code:5CUBA
Date:May 1, 2007
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