Fidel Castro on Monday broke his long and mysterious silence about Cuba's efforts to restore diplomatic relations with the United States in a letter that seems to be guarded support for the historic negotiations.
Castro's letter, read by a Cuban university student on state-run TV Monday night, appears to back the talks to end 50 years of hostility between the U.S. and Cuba. But the aging revolutionary, who hasn't been seen in public for more than a year, also warned, “I still don’t trust the politics of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them.”
The letter represents the first public statement by the elder Castro since the Dec. 17 announcements by the presidents of the U.S. and Cuba. Weeks of silence from the 88-year-old former revolutionary leader had reignited speculation about his health and whether he supported the decision by his brother Raul.
Here are 5 takeaways from the letter, which was published online today by the Cuban state-run newspaper Granma:
1) He's alive! The letter was probably intended — at least in part — to offer a proof of life and thereby debunk rumors about Castro’s death without addressing them specifically. Earlier this month, the Twittersphere lit up with speculation that Castro had died (a rumor that circulates wildly at least once a year). To quash the rumors, Castro sent a letter several weeks ago to Argentine soccer icon Diego Maradona during his visit to Cuba. Some reporters in Cuba noted the most recent letter from Castro sounds authentic.
2) Sometimes silence speaks louder than words. Curiously, Fidel failed to make any reference to three Cuban spies who were released and returned to Cuba as part of a prisoner-swap deal with the United States. Rarely has Fidel made a speech in past years without calling for release of the "Cuban Five," so it's certainly noteworthy that there is no mention of their release in his letter.
3) Let’s talk history. Before he stepped down as president in 2006 due to health issues, Castro was famous for his long-winded speeches, which often touched on a broad range of issues. Until recently, Castro kept up a public profile by writing essays and columns about world affairs published in Cuban state-run newspapers. In his 1,200-word letter this week, Castro once again showed his interest in history with references to ancient Greece, Mao Zedong, Vladimir Lenin and the Cold War conflict in Angola.
4) Raul is in charge. Fidel opened the letter by saying, “Dear Compañeros, Since 2006, because of health issues incompatible with the time and effort needed to fulfill my role … I stepped down from my positions.” He went on talk about the the U.S.-Cuba deal and said his brother, whom he described as “the president of Cuba,” decided to a pursue a new relationship with the United States “with his prerogatives and the powers given to him by the National Assembly and the Communist Party of Cuba.” The words seemed intended to remind people that Raul is fully in charge of Cuba’s government.
5) Skeptical, but hopeful. Although Castro expressed skepticism about Cuba making a new deal with its longtime nemesis, he also wrote, “We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the people of the world, including with our political adversaries.”