Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Is He Dead Yet?

Still another report of the imminent demise of Fidel Castro.

”High sources in Washington are saying that reliable sources have said that he has taken gravely ill,” said University of Miami’s Andy Gomez, who serves as an advisor to the U.S. Task Force on Cuba, an arm of the Brookings Institution think tank comprised of academics and former diplomats. ”They are monitoring this very closely, including looking for additional movements of security and troops. So far, none of this has happened.”

Castro’s continued absence from public view, an unusually long break from published essays, failure to schedule private chats with recent visiting presidents and veiled remarks by Venezuelan ally Hugo Chávez has elevated the unconfirmed reports of the Cuban leader’s pending death.

U.S. officials from the State Department acknowledged that they were aware of the reports on Castro’s health but denied they were monitoring troop activities on the island.

For those of you outside of the Miami area, this is a regular feature in our news here. Rumors start to spread: somebody heard from their cousin who got a late-night phone call from their sister’s neighbor in Havana that Castro had fallen off the perch, and pretty soon everybody from Calle Ocho to Hialeah is sure that not only is he dead, but he’s been dead since July 2006 and all the pictures of him have actually been of his brother Ramon, who’s been his stand-in, and what we’ve been treated to for the last two years is the Latin version of Weekend at Bernie’s. But then… nothing. No somber music over Radio Havana, no black-draped editions of Granma, and pretty soon it’s all forgotten until the next one.

This time around there’s little more than tea-leaves and vague signals, and the Miami Herald’s Cuba watch-blog, Cuban Colada, is being very cautious. But the timing would be interesting; Fidel Castro goes out, the Obama administration, which has promised to lift the Bush administration’s travel and money restrictions, comes in, and one of the unspoken requirements for lifting the embargo — Fidel’s passing — is met.

It would be one of life’s little ironies that Castro, who made his career out of being larger than life and who dominated the Latin American policy of the U.S. for fifty years, should fade away with barely a whimper on the eve of the inauguration of a president who is willing to deal with the Cuban government rather than isolate and lecture them.