Latin America


This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.


And I'm Michele Norris.

Fidel Castro will be 84 on Friday. It's been nearly four years since he turned over Cuba's leadership to his younger brother, Raul, withdrawing from public view after undergoing emergency surgery. Now, he's back, making almost daily appearances on Cuban television - and still throwing political curveballs.

Nick Miroff reports from Havana.

NICK MIROFF: Fidel Castro is convinced that U.S. and Israeli tensions with Iran are driving the world toward nuclear war, and he wants everyone to know it. So he's been talking about this subject all over town, even during a recent visit to the Havana Aquarium.

Over the weekend, he convened a special session of Cuba's parliament, urging President Obama to stave off Armageddon.

Mr. FIDEL CASTRO (Former President, Cuba): (Foreign language spoken)

MIROFF: Obama won't give the order to attack if we persuade him not to, Castro told the audience. A lot of people are with us in the effort. We're here to make our contribution.

Castro walked with the help of an aide, but he was expressive and alert when he spoke, banging the podium for emphasis and animating his ideas with his huge hands.

The 11-minute speech was uncharacteristically short, and in the question period that followed, he referred to the Russians as Soviets and called their country the USSR. But for the most part, he seemed sharp for a man of his age. He even got in a few licks against old foes in Washington that he's long outlived.

President CASTRO: (Foreign language spoken)

MIROFF: What's going to happen to this world? Castro asked rhetorically. The empire is coming to an end, and making war is no longer a way for the empire to sustain itself. At least Obama isn't Nixon, who was a cynic - because the United States has had presidents who were either cynics, or ignorant fools like Reagan, Castro added.

The delegates in the vast assembly hall mostly took turns praising Castro's return and his improved health. Like many Cubans, they seem to treat him as a grandfatherly figure, cheering him on and smiling through his grim warnings of apocalypse.

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Man #1: (Foreign language spoken)

Unidentified Group: (Foreign language spoken)

MIROFF: The Castro family has Cuba-watchers puzzled these days, wondering which brother is really calling the shots. So far, Fidel has avoided commenting on the island's domestic concerns, holding forth instead on foreign matters like global warming, the Obama presidency and now, atomic warfare.

Miriam Leiva is a former Cuban diplomat who is now a dissident writer and activist in Havana.

Ms. MIRIAM LEIVA (Founder, Ladies in White): He has determined the life of Cubans and all that is going on in Cuba for almost 50 years, so he can't be away from that. It's incredible what he's using. He wants to preserve humanity from a third world war. And in 1962, Fidel Castro put the world atn the verge of a third world war.

MIROFF: Unlike Leiva, most Cubans today were born after the Cuban missile crisis, and Castro rule is all they know. Leiva thinks most Cubans are wary of Fidel's return, concerned that he'll further delay his brother's slow-moving economic reforms. As usual, though, it's hard to gauge how Cubans really feel.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Man #2: (Singing in foreign language)

MIROFF: On summer nights, entire families come here, to Havana's Malecon seawall, to drink rum, hear music, and escape their sweltering apartments. Few care to talk about politics.

But Ramon Gonzalez(ph), an electrical engineer, said seeing Castro on TV again just seemed like a return to normalcy.

Mr. RAMON GONZALEZ: (Foreign language spoken)

MIROFF: Gonzalez said that even though Cubans haven't seen Castro in years, he's doing the same things he did before, even though now he's supposedly no longer running the country. Gonzalez said he thinks Castro is regaining the same influence he used to have.

Castro has also re-emerged in time to do some book promotion. His 833-page memoir, "The Strategic Victory," is coming out this month, chronicling his childhood and his rebel army's rise to power in the late 1950s. And he is already working on a second volume.

For NPR News, I'm Nick Miroff in Havana.

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