- The Washington Times - Monday, March 13, 2000

Ruling a Caribbean island with an iron fist for a protracted period of time can bring on "geriatric overexertion." Cuban dictator Fidel Castro appears to be suffering from precisely this malady.

In view of Mr. Castro's peculiar behavior recently, the State Department has asked the CIA to update its psychological profile of the 73-year-old dictator, reported the Miami Herald last week. Specifically, the State Department noted Mr. Castro's strange handling of Jose Imperatorie, whom U.S. officials last month accused of spying and declared persona non grata. Mr. Castro gave Mr. Imperatori a lavish hero's welcome after he resisted leaving the United States and subsequently Canada. The State Department also noted three rambling letters that Mr. Castro wrote to Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien attempting to justify Mr. Imperatori's refusal to leave Canada when ordered, reported the Herald. In addition, in an article in Granma, Cuba's official newspaper, Mr. Castro suggested that Cuban exiles had poisoned U.S. District Judge William Hoeveler, who was replaced on the Elian Gonzalez case after he suffered a stroke last month. Six-year-old Elian was rescued and brought to the United States after his U.S.-bound boat capsized.

Mr. Castro has also been alternately unintelligible and forgetful. In November, Mr. Castro called Gen. Jose Abrantes the respectful "companero," apparently forgetting that he had sent the former interior minister to jail on drug corruption charges. That same month, Mr. Castro wrote a letter to Rep. Jim McDermott, a Democrat from Washington, offering an almost incoherent explanation for his decision not to attend an international trade conference in Seattle. Mr. Castro also said the Seattle police crackdown on street riots during the World Trade Organization summit was worse than those unleashed by Gen. Augusto Pinochet after his coup in Chile.

And of course, Mr. Castro's approach to the Elian Gonzalez case has raised eyebrows. The massive protests Mr. Castro has orchestrated in favor of returning Elian to Cuba has cost the country millions dollars in transportation costs and factory production.

Last month, Brian Latell, the CIA's former top Cuba analyst, said that dictators sometimes seek to rediscover their revolutionary youth, reported the Herald. In the case of Mr. Castro, that nostalgia has been most unfortunate for the Cubans. According to a report by the Cuban Commission of Human Rights released March 2, there were more acts of repression in Cuba in the past four months than in the last 10 years. Oscar Elias Biscet, who was sentenced to three years' imprisonment for protesting the Castro regime by hanging some Cuban flags upside down, is a casualty of Mr. Castro's repressive zeal.

Sadly for Cubans, Mr. Castro's old age won't likely translate into kinder, gentler policy. For Cuba's sake, doctors need to find a new drug for geriatric overexertion.

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