HAVANA: In an essay published last week by Cuban official media, former president Fidel Castro said he didn’t expect to live long enough to turn 87 last week after illness forced him out of office in 2006.
In a wide-ranging article spread over three pages of the Communist Party newspaper Granma, Castro recalled being stricken with a near-fatal intestinal ailment on July 26, 2006.
“As soon as I understood that it would be definitive I did not hesitate to cease my charges as president…and I proposed that the person designated to exercise that task proceed immediately to take it up,” he said, in reference to his successor and younger brother, Raul Castro.
“I was far from imagining that my life would be prolonged seven more years,” said the retired leader, whose birthday was on August 13.
Castro, who stepped aside provisionally that year and retired permanently in 2008, is rarely seen in public, although pictures and videos of him are released intermittently by official media.
The retired leader’s essay was his first in over four months. His frequent columns, titled “Reflections” tapered off last year and reappeared after nine months in April with an article urging restraint as tensions elevated on the Korean Peninsula.
In this week’s essay, Castro also reflected on topics ranging from the death in March of his close ally and friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, to the wonders of science.
“The sciences should teach us above all to be humble, given our congenital self-sufficiency,” he said. “Thus would we be better prepared to confront and even enjoy the rare privilege of existence.”
He also revisited historic Cold War events, including the Cuban Missile Crisis and the failed Bay of Pigs invasion. Castro revealed that he was told by Soviet Premier Yuri Andropov that Moscow would not step in if Cuba were to be invaded by the United States.
“He said that if we were attacked by the United States, we should fight alone,” Castro wrote. “We asked if they could supply us with free arms as (they had) up until that time. He said yes. We told him then: ‘Don’t worry, send us the weapons and we will take care of the invaders ourselves’. Only a few of us knew about this because it would have been very dangerous for the enemy to have that information.”
Castro said that former North Korean leader, Kim Il-sung, had also come to Havana’s aid in the 1980s by providing 100,000 Kalashnikov assault rifles “without charging a cent”.
Last month, Panama detained a cargo ship carrying an undeclared shipment of arms, including fighter aircraft and missile systems, that were en route from Cuba to North Korea.
While Havana dismissed it as obsolete equipment being sent for repairs, a team of UN experts began inspecting the armaments and interviewing the ship’s crew this week to determine whether the shipment violated UN sanctions against North Korea.