Don't Expect A Castro Return Soon

Portia Siegelbaum is a CBS News producer based in Havana, Cuba



(STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Cuban President Fidel Castro says he has undergone not one but several operations since dropping out of public view nearly 10 months ago.

"Initially it was not successful," he writes, as an explanation of why it is taking him so long to recover. The good news, he says, he is now eating normally after many months on an IV.

It's his first comment in months on the state of his health and he still refrains from saying exactly what sent him into his first emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding last July 27th , one day after making two public speeches on the anniversary of the Revolution.

A commentary on the need to take energy saving measures signed by Castro and carried by the State-run media Thursday, ends with personal remarks by the 80 year old leader who was forced to announce he was "temporarily" turning over power to his younger brother Raul last July 31—an announcement that shocked this nation of 11 million inhabitants.

In his latest statement Castro says there is "No danger greater than that related to age and health abused by the hazardous times in which it was my fate to live." Castro who will be 81 next August 13 was famous for working all night every night and only sleeping for a few hours mid-morning, often skipping meals and at the best of times eating frugally.

Now, Castro is telling the Cuban people and the world not to expect him back, at least for the time being. The Cuban leader says he is doing what he has to do, "especially to reflect on and write about certain subjects of importance…." In recent weeks he has written nearly a dozen editorials focusing on bio-fuels and arguing against the use of corn and other foodstuffs to produce ethanol. "I have a lot of material to get to still," he writes.

He also says he has no time to keep up his looks to appear in videos or still photos, "that require that I constantly cut my hair, beard, mustache and to polish my appearance every day". In addition, the Cuban leader says every time he does appear in photos or video, he is swamped with interview requests.

"I tell you simply that I have been improving and maintaining a stable weight, around 176 pounds (80 kilograms)," Castro writes. That may be reassuring to Cubans who were shaken by official video released October 21st showing a frail and very thin Castro. In the most recent photos released during a visit by a top Chinese Government leader Castro appeared to have recovered a substantial part of the weight lost during his illness.

His remarks carry a dual message: 1. He's getting better; 2. Don't expect him back any time soon, if ever, in his old role as omnipresent leader popping up around the island and giving frequent lengthy speeches on television.

Government officials have been issuing positive statements on Castro's recovery for the last couple of months and often insisting that he is keeping on top of the principle issues facing the nation by frequent telephone contact with the top leadership, in whose hands he left the day to day running of affairs after the first operation.

However, in his comments Thursday, Castro makes no reference to domestic issues but speaks about continuing to write on "important" international issues.

As to what he does with the rest of his time Castro writes, "…I use [it] to read, receive information, speak by phone with numerous comrades and to do the necessary rehabilitation exercises".

Still there are many here who believe Fidel Castro is a man of surprises and that we should not be too quick to write him off or to relegate him to some "wise man" advisory role. So, he may yet pop up at some time in the future, beard trimmed, dressed in his familiar olive green military uniform.