- Associated Press - Monday, July 12, 2010

HAVANA (AP) — Fidel Castro is back.

The aging revolutionary leader will appear Monday on Cuba’s key public affairs television program, according to a front-page headline in the Communist-party newsletter Granma. It may be the most prominent appearance by the former president since he fell ill in 2006.

Mr. Castro, 83, was set to discuss his concerns about the Middle East on the “Mesa Redonda” — or “Round Table” — a daily talk show about current events that usually is transmitted live on state media and seen across the island.

“This afternoon, special ‘Mesa Redonda’ with Fidel,” blares the headline.

The announcement did not specify whether Monday’s program would be broadcast live, and government officials contacted by the Associated Press had no comment. Mr. Castro also appeared in videotaped interviews with Cuban television in June and September 2007.

But appearances have been extremely rare since a serious illness in July 2006 forced him to step down — first temporarily, than permanently — and hand power over to his brother Raul. Photos of the elder Mr. Castro greeting workers at a science center were published in pro-government blogs and on state media over the weekend, the first time he has been photographed in public in that time.

Mr. Castro’s sudden reemergence comes after the dramatic announcement last week that Cuba will free 52 political prisoners in the next few months under a deal with the Roman Catholic Church.

Mr. Castro remains head of Cuba’s Communist Party and continues to publish his thoughts on world events in frequent opinion pieces, called “Reflections.” Recently, he has voiced alarm about America’s standoff with Iran over nuclear issues, as well as a deadly Israeli raid on an aid convoy headed to Gaza.

Mr. Castro has warned in several “Reflections” over the past few weeks that a nuclear conflagration involving Iran, Israel and the United States is imminent, going so far as to say that the World Cup was a distraction keeping people from focusing on potential global destruction.

“Amid game after game of the World Cup, the diabolical news trickles out little by little, so that nobody worries about it,” Mr. Castro wrote on June 24.

While Cubans have become accustomed to reading Mr. Castro’s writings on world affairs, he has stayed largely out of the public eye since ceding power, helping Raul Castro carve out a role as the country’s leader after a lifetime spent in his more famous brother’s shadow.

Cubans reacted with surprise to word of Fidel Castro’s relative media blitz.

“The photos (published over the weekend) and now the ‘Round Table’ are meant to send a message: ‘I am here and I am on top of everything … I am a part of every decision that is being made,’” said Magaly Delgado Rojo, a 72-year-old retiree in Havana’s Playa neighborhood on Monday. “This is not casual at all. This is calculated.”

The two Castros have ruled Cuba since overthrowing dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959. Fidel Castro’s health has for years been the subject of frequent rumors — particularly among exiles in Florida — and his television appearance undoubtedly will be scrutinized for signs of his aging.

The photographs of Fidel Castro published this weekend were taken on Wednesday at a scientific think tank in Havana. He is shown smiling and waving at workers, appearing relaxed and happy, but somewhat stooped. Granma republished the photographs on Monday under the story about his upcoming television appearance.

Cuba has occasionally released pictures showing Mr. Castro in private meetings with dignitaries, most recently during a visit in February by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva. But he had not been photographed in a public setting since 2006.

Mr. Castro appeared in a 50-minute taped interview with the host of the “Mesa Redonda,” Randy Alonso, in June 2007 and discussed Vietnam and other topics. That appearance was announced more than a day before it aired.

He also appeared on Cuban television for an hour-long interview in September of that year, knocking down a slew of rumors of his death. That appearance was announced only minutes before it was broadcast.

A month later, he phoned in to a live broadcast featuring Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close Castro ally who was visiting Cuba. Mr. Castro sounded healthy and in good humor, but he was not seen.

Mr. Castro also has appeared in video clips and photographs with visiting presidents and other dignitaries.

Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.


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