QCOSTARICA (DigitalJournal) Cuban leader Fidel Castro has broken his silence on a historic rapprochement between Washington and Havana, implicitly endorsing it even as he expressed an abiding distrust of his old foe.
The 88-year-old revolutionary icon had said nothing since last month’s surprise agreement, raising questions not only about where he stood on mending relations with Washington, but also about his health and political status.
But late Monday, Castro appeared to answer some of those questions in a letter read out on state television that reflected both skepticism of and tacit support for the decision by his brother Raul to normalize ties.
“I don’t trust in the policy of the United States, nor have I exchanged one word with them,” he said, adding that his words were not meant to be interpreted as “a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts — far from it,” he said.
He said Raul Castro had acted in keeping with his powers as president.
“Any peaceful and negotiated solution to problems between the United States and the peoples or any people of Latin America, which does not imply force or the use of force, should be treated according to international norms and principles,” Castro said
“We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all the peoples of the world, among them our political adversaries. It’s what we are calling for on everyone’s part,” he said.
In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said Castro’s comments were “a positive sign: and that Washington looks forward to Cuba adopting international norms “for a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba.”
Psaki stressed though that there was “a lot more work to be done” and revealed the US has “invited Cuban officials to Washington in the coming weeks” to continue the talks.
No definite date has been set yet.
The text of the letter, which was addressed to the Federation of University Students, was published Tuesday in the official Communist Party newspaper Granma and other state publications, under headlines that did not highlight his comments on the US-Cuba rapprochement.
In his typically loquacious manner, Castro covered a range of topics in the letter, touching on Ancient Greece and Cuba’s military campaigns in Africa in the 1970s and 1980s before coming around to his comments on the rapprochement with the United States.
“The text sends a double message: cautious support for normalizing relations between the two countries and concern over the intentions of the powerful neighbor to the north,” said Jorge Duany, a Cuban academic at Florida International University.
Long road to normalization
The agreement to begin normalizing ties after more than 50 years of enmity stunned the world when it was announced December 17 by US President Barack Obama and Raul Castro, who succeeded an ailing Fidel as Cuba’s president in 2006.
Last week, the highest-ranking US delegation in 35 years began negotiations with Cuban officials in Havana on reopening embassies in their respective capitals.
The agreement will ease trade and travel restrictions to open the flow of contacts between the two countries separated by 90 miles (145 kilometers) of water but an enormous political gulf.
It has been criticized by some US lawmakers and many Cuban Americans for not gaining concessions on human rights and democratic reforms.
Latin American leaders across the political spectrum, however, have hailed it as a long-overdue end to the US-imposed isolation of Havana.
What had been missing was word from Fidel who, although retired, remains the embodiment of the one-party communist state he erected in defiance of Washington after Cuba’s 1959 revolution.
His silence had raised doubts about whether he was even alive, until visiting Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona made public a letter he had received from Fidel.
Absence from public view
Castro, who did not comment on the rumors about his health in the letter, was last seen in public more than a year ago, when he attended a friend’s art gallery opening on January 6, 2014.
Fidel had been a frequent contributor to Cuba’s state-run newspapers, but published his last column in mid-October, when he proposed that Cuba and the United States cooperate in fighting the Ebola epidemic in west Africa.
His absence was especially noted upon the return of three Cuban spies, celebrated as heroes in Havana, as part of the agreement with Washington. They were swapped for a Cuban imprisoned as a US spy. Jailed US contractor Alan Gross also was freed at the same time.
Arturo Lopez-Levy, an analyst at New York University, said Castro’s letter was a reminder that the regime’s revolutionary wing remains a major factor in Cuban decision-making.
“There is no abandonment of revolutionary zeal in favor of foreign policy pragmatism, but rather a calibration in the balance between those two components,” he said.
Both countries still “must deal with the legacy of their own histories,” he said.