The Kansas City Star
Posted on Tue, Mar. 20, 2007
By Ray Sanchez
South Florida Sun-Sentinel
HAVANA - Bolivian President Evo Morales has added his voice to a chorus of speculative references to Fidel Castro's future, hinting that the ailing Cuban leader could return to power within weeks.
Speaking at a meeting of potato farmers in Cochabamba on Sunday, Morales said Castro could make his return during an April 28 summit in Havana to commemorate the third anniversary of the alternative trade bloc known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas.
"It will be the opportunity to see the return of Fidel Castro to the presidency of Cuba," Morales was quoted as saying in published reports.
For the first time since Castro announced July 31 that he had undergone emergency surgery and was passing authority to his younger brother, defense minister Raul Castro, the senior Castro's supporters both here and abroad appear to be setting the stage for his eventual return to the presidency.
"This is the second coming," said Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, a Washington, D.C., think tank. "There are certainly a series of optimistic statements coming out. It wouldn't be coming in this kind of full blush of information. People would be reluctant to be caught up in any kind of hoax."
On Thursday, National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon predicted that Castro would be in "great shape" to run for president of the Council of State in the next election. "I'd nominate him," Alarcon said.
The Spanish newspaper El Pais, also on Thursday, quoted Castro's longtime friend, Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, as saying that he and Castro had walked "kilometers" and discussed climate change and Latin American politics. "All I will say is that it is the same old Fidel," the paper quoted Garcia Marquez as saying.
On March 12, appearing in Paris, Cuba's foreign minister, Felipe Perez Roque, said Castro's health was improving and that he was increasingly getting back to work. "We consult him about different matters," Perez Roque said. "He gives us direction."
Cuba watchers said the comments appear to indicate a return to power by the 80-year-old leader who has ruled the island nation for 47 years.
"Now the question is, of course, will he have to undergo a long period of rehabilitation," Birns said. "His workload will be minimal. This is probably more of a symbolic return than an actual return."
Birns said a part-time return by Castro could aid in the transition.
"What will be good about this is that it's going to help prepare the second tier of leadership," he said. "There's been a problem which everyone has recognized that at the age of 75 Raul doesn't provide that substantial a rock upon which to build this church."
However, Wayne Smith, the top U.S. diplomat in Havana from 1979 to 1982, said he visited Cuba two months ago and that none of the government officials he met expected Castro to resume the presidency.
"This in effect was the best of all worlds for Cuba, this gradual transition," he said. "Raul Castro was governing smoothly. Everyone accepted that Castro was still there as a reassuring figure in the background. There comes a point at which you have to ask, `How much longer can this go on?' Raul Castro is the president but he isn't the president."