appearance of the aging dictator this past year, one would think that these rumors of his demise are a new thing. But this rumor mill is an ancient established industry.
Anyone following Cuban politics and news — like most of the Cuban exile community in Miami for the past half century — knows that pronouncements of the death of Fidel Castro are followed by public appearances to dispel the rumors. Some Miami exiles joke that Castro suffers quarterly deaths . Others believe the rumors of his demise are floated by the Cuban government itself, in order to discredit the Cuban exile community in Miami.
This past July, however, something unthinkable happened. Fidel Castro actually ceded power to his younger brother Raul. Almost immediately the South Florida airwaves were glutted with reports of yet another meeting between the bearded dictator and the Angel of Death.
Even though communications to and from the island nation were hampered, Miami talk radio fielded calls from exiles expressing everything from jubilation to concern, including plenty of grist for the rumor mill:
“Fidel Castro has Alzheimer’s”
“He can no longer lead the country.”
“He is muy loco. ”
“He has no idea who he is, much less what he is.”
“Did you see him in his last public appearance? His hands were trembling. His neck and head were twitching. The man has Parkinson’s.”
Some rumors offered more than opinions. Some came complete with bedside medical diagnosis.
My favorite is the never-ending “colostomy bag hypothesis.” In this scenario Castro’s demise is to come not from an angry exile’s bullet or a CIA exploding cigar, but a bag. His arch enemy, the rumors assure, is the colostomy bag that replaced his sidearm years ago, meant to collect, as some vociferous anti-Castro hard-liners claim, all the leftovers that don’t come out of his mouth. The colostomy bag, some “informed” sources in Cuba stated through aunts and uncles and sisters and brothers in exile, had overflowed and what was left of Castro’s bowels had become infected.
The Cuban government, as usual, after a few days of allowing the rumors to spread, change and become more complicated, worked to dispel said rumors; publishing photographs of an Adidas track suit clad Fidel Castro reading the latest issue of Granma, Cuba’s communist rag.
The buzz baton then passed to the Internet with many self-proclaimed Photoshop experts debating, ad infinitum, the validity of the officially released photographs of the obviously ill Castro. Blogs published, articulated, criticized, linked and, in some cases, offered their own particular rendition of the official photos. Blog readers commented and offered even more versions of the goings on in the higher echelons of the Castro government.
A political coup had taken place. Factions of the Cuban army, formerly under the executed General Ochoa, had taken over the Cuban capital, shot security guards and Raul Castro himself. All that remained was the details of who would now make the official announcement and who would be the successor to the throne.
That announcement never came, but more “official” photographs did.
This time, with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez in a quaint bedside meeting where both men, wearing red, were shown posing in concerned brotherly love and the ever vociferous Chavez later stating, in no uncertain terms, that Fidel Castro was, in fact, recuperating magnificently and was, in fact, lucid and still in charge of the Communist nation. The obvious countenance of an obviously confused and medically hazed Fidel Castro be damned.
No problema. The rumors rolled on.
Upon release of the Castro-Chavez bedside tryst pictures, Miami radio was again replete with more twelfth hand communications from Havana.
Rumor one: “My bosses sister’s brother in law just came back from Cuba and he said that he heard from his cousin’s neighbor, where he was staying in el Vedado, that he had a friend in the military who was in fact in the room at the time the Chavez pictures were taken, who told his wife to secure their belongings because Fidel Castro is on his deathbed and there is a power struggle going on between the factions of the military.”
Rumor two: “Someone I know in the hospital where Castro was being treated, but whom I cannot name for fear of government retribution, told me personally that Fidel Castro had fallen off his hospital gurney in a stairwell. They were moving him from his room down to the morgue and were afraid to be seen in the elevators so they decided to take the stairs. The orderlies’ laughter, I’m told, was heard echoing inside the stairwell.”
Wind sloughed off the sails of these rumors with the official Cuban government release of more “Fidel Castro is A-OK” propaganda, this time via video where a Hugh-Hefner-robed Castro was shown in the horrid Adidas track suit as he teetered about – zombie style – an elevator and lobby. All that video proved, to the discerning, was just how debilitated and weak Fidel Castro actually looked.
The US government, not wanting to be left out of the party, jumped into the rumor fray with official reports from official sources assuring us that Fidel Castro is in the throes of death. “Castro seriously ill,” one report stated. The most recent report, released this month, states in no uncertain terms that the US government is sure that Fidel Castro does, indeed, have some sort of “intestinal cancer” that is not treatable. It’s only a matter of time.
This past week the Cuban government, whether attempting to assuage the Cuban population or dispel the official US government report, flew in one “Dr. Saborio” from Spain, complete with a planeload of high tech medical equipment and supplies, to examine the non-ailing dictator and to state, via press conferences, that in his oncological expertise, Fidel Castro does not, in fact, have intestinal cancer. Why the Cuban government, with it’s universally lauded state of the art, technically advanced universal healthcare and island teeming with doctors would fly in a Spanish oncologist to examine a cancer-less Fidel Castro remains a mystery.
Maybe the Total News Agency article, reporting that Fidel Castro has, yes, been frozen in a drawer since before Christmas and purporting to be in the know as to certain covert US CIA operations during the recent December 2nd celebrations in Cuba, is making the Cuban government nervous. Maybe they just wanted to let everyone know that Fidel Castro is, indeed, not dead, and is, indeed, disease free and will, in fact, according to reports from Castro’s personal doctors earlier this year, live to the ripe old age of 120.
Whatever the case may be, the rumors will undoubtedly continue from all sides of the political and ideological spectrum and the truth as to the fate of the longest reigning dictator of the century will not be known until what remains of his government decides it can officially say “El Comandante ha muerto” and not be risking political suicide.
Until then, Castro is one dead horse that’s going to keep taking a beating. I have that from my sister’s mother’s son, and he knows what he’s talking about.
Val Prieto is the editor of Babalu.