Fidel Castro's Nuclear-War Speech Startles Analysts

Parsing the Cuban revolutionary's unusual remarks

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In an unusual appearance on Cuban television, Fidel Castro warned of a nuclear war between the U.S. and Iran. Emerging from virtual solitude, this was the first time since 2007 that his countrymen could actually see and hear him. "'If there's an attack on Iran by Israel and the US, there's no way to prevent it from becoming a nuclear war,'' he said—adding that the Korean Peninsula may also fall victim to a nuclear confrontation.

His remarks puzzled foreign policy analysts, who struggled to divine Castro's intentions: 
  • Here's the Gist, explains Tracy Wilkinson at The Los Angeles Times: "Dressed in a casual jacket and plaid shirt, Castro, who turns 84 next month, opened his remarks with discussion of tensions between North and South Korea, mentioning the recent sinking of a South Korean naval ship and that incident's potential for inflaming the region... He then went on to repeat warnings that nuclear war may also be about to explode involving Iran and Israel. He quoted international pundits like Noam Chomsky and chastised the United States and Israel for what he believes is their campaign to fuel a perilous global arms race."
  • Possible Explanations  Sara Miller Llana at The Christian Science Monitor offers them up: "Was he trying to put a mark on the prisoner release deal – reached last week between Cuba, Spanish officials, and the church – which has generally been greeted positively on the world stage? Or was it the contrary: an unspoken message that Cuba is not letting down its guard? Or was it simply a coincidence, one that keeps Cubans and the world guessing as they so often have over the former president's reign?"
  • Trying to Show He's Still in Control, says Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy research group. "This is a way to suggest that Fidel is still around and watching and that no one should think that there’s a major change. It’s a good message if they want to show not to expect more change, bring out Fidel."
  • Tough to Know Why He's Speaking Out Now, writes Marc Lacey at The New York Times: "Analysts said that it had always been difficult to interpret Fidel Castro’s motives, and that remains the case. Just why he would make such an appearance now was anybody’s guess... His attention to detail, even when it leaves listeners scratching their heads, is one thing that had not changed."

Health-care reform? Elections in Latin America? The World Baseball Classic? No subject is off limits for the former dictator’s meandering thoughts, which are called “Reflections by comrade Fidel,” although they would be more accurately titled “Streams of Consciousness” by comrade Fidel.

Mr. Castro’s writings are best suited to one of those bullet-point-style columns (“It is only a matter of time until the Yankee imperialists crumble … You can’t beat a chicken sandwich and a glass of iced tea on a hot day”) but he has eschewed such conventions and instead veers from topic to topic in the same Reflection, from the weighty to the banal.

Usually his observations come to a thudding end, although sometimes he employs a sign-off, as with this gem from last year: “I have nothing else to say today.” (Admittedly, this is a device I have considered when struggling to find an end to a column.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.