What he said mattered so much less than the fact he said it, or said anything at all.
Fidel Castro made a rare appearance on Cuban television Monday evening, emerging from virtual seclusion and offering his most lengthy publicly aired comments in years. He looked aged, his face drawn, but in decent health. His chosen theme: the threat of nuclear war in the world, something for which he suggested the United States had a big responsibility.
The TV gig on the popular evening news chat program “Mesa Redonda” (Round Table) followed the publication over the weekend of the first photographs showing Castro mingling with the public since he fell ill in 2006. They were taken as he visited Havana’s National Scientific Research Center last week.
As a result of his 2006 health problems, he later turned over formal control of the government to younger brother Raul after 49 years.
The TV appearance also coincided with Cuba’s decision to free 52 political prisoners, the most massive such release in a decade. The first of the prisoners were being readied Monday for transfer to Spain.
Dressed in a casual jacket and plaid shirt, Castro, who turns 84 next month, opened his remarks with discussion of tensions between North and South Korea, mentioning the recent sinking of a South Korean naval ship and that incident’s potential for inflaming the region.
“It would be a sea of flames,” he said, echoing language used by the North Korean government.
Castro frequently consulted notes, apparently some of his columns that he publishes regularly in the state-controlled media. Parts of his speech were occasionally slurred, but he was lucid, firm and relaxed.
“I’ve got some points underlined here,” he told the show’s host, a sheaf of papers in his hands.
He then went on to repeat warnings that nuclear war may also be about to explode involving Iran and Israel. He quoted international pundits like Noam Chomsky and chastised the United States and Israel for what he believes is their campaign to fuel a perilous global arms race.
Fidel Castro’s appearance lasted about an hour. It was unclear whether it was live or recorded.
Did his decision to take to the airwaves mean he objected to the prisoner release? Was he trying to upstage the release, distract attention from it? If so, he didn’t let on, sticking to international and not domestic politics.
Or was he frustrated that his recent columns warning of nuclear holocaust were being generally ignored in Cuba and abroad? In the most recent of those, published Monday, Castro wrote:
“In substance, [President] Obama intends to mislead the world talking about a world free of nuclear weapons that would be replaced with other extremely destructive weapons designed to terrorize the leaders of other States and to accomplish the new strategy of complete impunity.”
Since his illness and emergency intestinal surgery, the revolutionary leader had appeared in videotaped television interviews twice — in June and September of 2007 — in part to dispel widely circulating rumors at the time that he was dead. But most other sightings of him have been in government-released photos of his private meetings with visiting dignitaries.