Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Famously loquacious Fidel Castro discovers brevity

Posted on Tuesday, 06.19.12

Famously loquacious Fidel Castro discovers brevity
Associated Press

HAVANA -- Fidel Castro has been called many things during his long turn
on the world's stage, but "succinct" has not been one of them.

So acolytes and detractors alike have met the latest musings of the
Cuban revolutionary, long famed for five-hour speeches, with
befuddlement. His normally loquacious opinion pieces in the local press
lately almost have been short enough to tweet, and sometimes as vague
and mysterious as a fortune cookie.

Since he left office in 2006, the former Cuban president has kept
himself busy publishing thoughts on whatever topics might interest him:
from dire warnings of a looming nuclear Armageddon, to disgust at U.S.
politics and to fond memories of his swashbuckling past.

Whatever he writes is reprinted in its entirety in every Cuban
newspaper, and read out in serious tones by anchors on television and
radio broadcasts. Often, comments or newspaper articles that catch
Castro's fancy are quoted nearly in their entirety, with only brief
fresh comment. Occasionally, Castro even quotes his own past columns,
entitled "Reflections" verbatim from beginning to end.

The pieces come irregularly, but almost all have one thing in common.
They are long. Or at least they were until last week, when the
85-year-old began a flurry of bite-sized ruminations that have Cubans
and Cuba-watchers alike scratching their heads.

"What are the FC?" Castro asked in a one-paragraph offering on June 10,
before answering himself cryptically: "These comprise a method with
which I try to transmit the modest understandings I have acquired during
long years, and which I consider useful for Cuban officials responsible
for the production of foodstuffs that are essential to our people's lives."

Nobody on the island seems to have any idea what the "FC" stands for, or
what the former leader is referring to. The Cuban government has not
responded to requests for an explanation.

In comments posted on the government's Cubadebate website beneath the
"Reflection," Cubans took turns trying to decipher its meaning, or
asking for help.

EXPLAINS WHAT ARE THE FC," wrote a reader identified as Orestes.

"For me it's clear what FC stands for," said a bold poster named
Armando. "Corrupt functionaries, dung-eating functionaries, cretinous
functionaries, outdated functionaries, quasi-stupid functionaries,
complicit functionaries." In Spanish, all of those possibilities bear
the initials FC.

Exiles in Miami have long-monitored Castro's writings, and false rumors
of his demise pop up whenever a few weeks go by without a new essay. The
latest batch have raised questions of another kind.

"Every day his comments are getting smaller. Like someone who is fading
out," said Miami political consultant and Cuban exile Gus Garcia. "I
keep thinking the whole philosophy now is from a gentleman who is no
longer in touch with reality."

The day after the FC essay, Castro published a 65-word blurb on former
East German leader Erich Honecker, whose communist regime collapsed in
1990 as reforms in the Soviet Union led to uprisings that swept away
socialist governments across Eastern Europe.

"I maintain feelings of profound solidarity with Honecker," Castro
wrote, following a dig at an unnamed world leader who "sold his soul for
a few fingers of vodka," an apparent reference to reformist Russian
president Boris Yeltsin. Another, three-line offering sent June 14,
criticizes Deng Xiaoping, considered the architect of China's economic
reforms, for a long-ago slight against Cuba.

One "Relfection" consisted solely of reproducing six-lines of poetry
about deceased revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

This week's offerings are even more esoteric.

A 51-word dispatch on Monday talked up the benefits of a tree used in
many developing countries to boost nutrition and feed livestock.

"The conditions exist for the country to begin massive production of
moringa oleifera and white mulberry which, in addition to being an
inexhaustible source of meat, eggs and milk, have silky fibers that can
be woven artisanally and are capable of creating well-paid work in the
shade, regardless of age or sex," reads the entire piece.

On Tuesday, Castro wrote two sentences noting that yoga masters "can do
things with the human body that can hardly be imagined." He urged his
countrymen to watch an upcoming television program on the subject,
before signing off.

Ted Henken, a Cuba expert and professor of Latin American studies at
Baruch College in New York, said the mini-reflections read like
something between a tweet and a haiku.

"They either mean nothing at all or are like reading tea leaves," he
said. "It's like that crazy uncle who says inscrutable things, either
full of hidden meaning or full of something else."

Islanders have grown accustomed to Castro's circuitous manner of
speaking, with philosophy and bold ideas interrupted by long, tangential
asides. In his heyday, Castro could speak for hours under the blazing
Caribbean sun, and still holds the record for the longest speech (4
hours, 16 minutes) ever given to the U.N. General Assembly.

But Cubans say the randomness of the new, mini-dispatches is unsettling,
and reactions have ranged from puzzlement to outright derision.

"I don't understand what he is trying to say but it must be something,
because Fidel never does anything just to do it," said Julio Romero, a
67-year-old retiree. "There's always a reason, so we'll see."

Many younger Cubans were less charitable, if reluctant to go on the
record for fear of getting into trouble.

"I think he's toasted," said Pablo, a 20-something Havana resident. He
smiled and twirled his finger next to his ear as he used the slang term
for crazy, then walked briskly away.


Associated Press writers Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana, and Laura
Wides-Munoz in Miami, contributed to this report.

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