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Castro Repents

Fidel Castro (second from left) and journalist Jeffrey Goldberg (right) watch a dolphin performance at Havana's National Aquarium on August 29.

Fidel Castro (second from left) and journalist Jeffrey Goldberg (right) watch a dolphin performance at Havana's National Aquarium on August 29.

Fidel's back, and he has reentered Cuba's political sphere with a bang.

Since July 10, his first public appearance in four years, he has dedicated himself to a most difficult task: preventing nuclear war.

His comments on the issue have included slamming the United States for trying to enforce international sanctions against Iran over its nuclear program, which he says would inevitably result in a nuclear war, and attacking Washington for creating a “system that threatens the survival of humanity.”

He has reportedly even met with economists in Havana to ask them to ponder creating a “new civilization” after the war.

“We have to mobilize the world to persuade Barack Obama, president of the United States, to avoid a nuclear war. That is the only thing that he can do or not do -- press the button,” Castro said in an interview on August 31 with Carmen Lira Saade, editor of Mexico’s "La Jornada" newspaper.

Castro (second from left) speaks with trainers at Havana's National Aquarium in July, on one of his many visits.
Some might argue it felt more like Cuba -- with a little help from the USSR -- had its finger on the "button" back in 1962 during the Missile Crisis. But in a recent interview with "Atlantic Monthly" writer Jeffrey Goldberg, Castro expressed regret for inviting Soviet leader Nikita Khruschev to park nuclear missiles on Cuban soil.

"After I've seen what I've seen, and knowing what I know now, it wasn't worth it all," he said.

He added: “The Iranian capacity to inflict damage is not appreciated. Men think they can control themselves, but Obama could overreact and a gradual escalation could become a nuclear war."

Castro may have the experience, and time may have given him the perspective, to understand the corrupting influence of nuclear weapons in a way that other leaders cannot.

Castro’s comments appear to be part of an overall image he is presenting to the public: contrition. A former dictator atoning for past mistakes.

Without formally apologizing – for most things, at least – he appears to be trying to redeem himself to the international community. Could this be Castro trying to leave the world with a positive impression before bowing out of the public eye again, this time for good? Whether or not his return to the limelight truly represents a return to health, the 84-year-old Castro's history of serious health problems likely means he won’t be around for too much longer.

Fidel has changed his tune on some other controversial topics as well, including taking responsibility for the persecution of homosexuals after the 1959 revolution.

In the 1960s and '70s, homophobia was rampant, with gays often accused of being counterrevolutionaries and imprisoned or sent to labor camps. These human rights abuses damaged the international image the regime was attempting to build as a society where socialism functioned properly -- a society where all people were truly equal.

Since his reappearance, Castro has taken the blame for the discrimination, saying in the interview with "La Jornada": “If anyone was responsible, then it was me.”

Castro has also spoken strongly about preventing climate change, one of the issues he has praised Obama for taking a stand on.

But just when Castro’s behavior appears to make some sort of sense, "Granma," the state-run newspaper, printed a sufficiently bizarre article to make one wonder if maybe he isn’t just a bit senile after all.

On August 31, a front-page article ran with the headline “Fidel Makes a Return Visit to the National Aquarium,” apparently his favorite place to relax when he's not working to prevent World War III. He brought along several journalists and academics, including Goldberg.

The lucky visitors described the trip as a “unique experience,” according to "Granma."

In a blog post published yesterday, Goldberg commented on “one of the stranger days” he has ever experienced, a day in which Castro invited him to view "the dolphin show." Castro then instructed him to ask the director of the aquarium “good questions” about the dolphins, before telling Goldberg the director didn’t know much anyway, as he was a nuclear physicist.

"We put him here to keep him from building nuclear bombs!” Castro reportedly said, cracking himself up.

Goldberg acknowledged that the performance was actually pretty fantastic, and said he had never seen anyone enjoy a dolphin show as much as Fidel Castro.

-- Courtney Rose Brooks

About This Blog

Written by RFE/RL editors and correspondents, Transmission serves up news, comment, and the odd silly dictator story. While our primary concern is with foreign policy, Transmission is also a place for the ideas -- some serious, some irreverent -- that bubble up from our bureaus. The name recognizes RFE/RL's role as a surrogate broadcaster to places without free media. You can write us at