Fidel Castro talks with Cuban ambassadors in most overtly political appearance since seclusion

By Paul Haven, AP
Friday, July 16, 2010

Fidel appears with Cuban ambassadors, warns of war

HAVANA — Fidel Castro took questions from Cuban ambassadors at the Foreign Ministry on Friday and warned them of the threat of global nuclear war in his most overtly political public act since re-emerging from four years of near total seclusion.

It was the revolutionary leader’s fifth appearance in less than a week, and the first in which he met with senior government officials. The sudden media blitz has many observers wondering if the 83-year-old former president plans to reinsert himself into Cuba’s political scene at a particularly sensitive time. The government — now run by his brother Raul — is in the midst of freeing dozens of political prisoners, faces a severe economic malaise and has been cracking down on high-level corruption.

Castro has so far stayed clear of discussing national issues that would be in his brother’s domain, focusing instead on his apocalyptic theory that war is imminent pitting the United States and Israel against Iran.

“When something like this (nuclear war) begins, all the responses are preprogramed,” Castro warned. “It is only a question of seconds.”

With Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez at his side, the former president took questions for more than 90 minutes from Cuba’s ambassador corps, who were assembled in Havana for a regularly scheduled meeting. A taped broadcast of the session went out on national television Friday evening, and an article about the encounter was posted on the government-run Cubadebate website.

“Thank you, Comandante,” the foreign minister said at the end of the question period. “We are very excited about your presence here this morning.”

In Castro’s other appearances this week, he has met workers at a science think tank, been interviewed on a current affairs program, visited an economics center and taken in a dolphin show at the national aquarium. Even at the dolphin show, Castro brought up his fear that America would unleash a nuclear war, something he has been warning about in opinion pieces for weeks.

Castro went so far as to predict in one of his essays that the World Cup recently completed in South Africa would be interrupted by a looming conflict. He later apologized for jumping the gun, saying he received outdated information from a low level Foreign Ministry functionary, but said he still thinks a nuclear conflagration is on the horizon.

The former Cuban leader stepped down — first temporarily, then permanently — following emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. He has occasionally met with foreign dignitaries since then, but the photos published of him on Saturday at the science think tank were the first of him in a public setting since his illness.

Now, suddenly, he’s everywhere, leaving Cubans to wonder what it all might mean.

The two Castros have ruled Cuba for more than half a century since overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Fidel’s health has for years been the subject of frequent rumors — particularly among exiles in Florida, and his television appearance will undoubtedly be scrutinized for signs of his aging.

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