Fidel Castro, borrowing a line from Mark Twain, would like you to know that reports of his demise are greatly exaggerated. Fidel Alejandro Castro Ruz, the 80-year-old dictator of the island nation of Cuba, transferred power to his younger brother on July 31 after "intestinal surgery" and has been recovering ever since.
The city of Miami is planning a mega-party to celebrate his death, but many of Castro's most bitter critics have been down this road too many times before and say they won't believe it until they can spit on his corpse. It's not surprising that it is not known what his illness is, or that there are conflicting stories about it, given the web of secrecy, fabrications and double talk that has swarmed around Castro since the inception of the revolution that eventually toppled the Batista regime. But based on what little is known, and using a little surgical detective work, we can get a pretty good idea of what happened.
The first report out of Cuba was a statement from the government that said Castro had undergone surgery for stress-related gastrointestinal bleeding. His condition was reported as serious, but his return was to be expected in a few weeks. According to the official statement, Castro said his intense schedule "promoted in me a sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a complicated surgical procedure." But during the next several days, when he didn't appear in public, rumors began to swarm: Was it cancer? Was he dying? The Bush administration, always last to know what's going on in the world, said it was caught off-guard by the reports of Castro's illness and had no idea what his condition was.
As the speculation whirlwind reached tornado strength, the Cuban government released four photos of the recovering Castro, including one in which he is seated in a chair, holding up the August 12th edition of the state-run newspaper Granma and dressed in a red, white, and blue Addidas jumpsuit. The irony of the Communist leader dressed in a workout suit with the same color scheme as the American Flag and advertising a US corporation was lost on most Americans, as all attention focused on whether the photos were real or photo shopped. But Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stopped over for a visit and had some photos taken with Castro, convincing the world that Castro was indeed alive, if not well. Additional state visits followed, with more pictures, an October video with Castro again reading from the current edition of the paper to prove it was not file footage, and lots of speculation.