Commentary: Fidel Castro sports his old look

The Miami HeraldSeptember 12, 2010 

Fidel Castro is back in his olive-green military uniform. How fitting.

It's a refreshingly honest image after years of seeing him in an oversized jogging suit, trying to look the part of a content retiree who is perfectly comfortable giving up power. That image, though, was less painful than seeing Castro, as we did in the 1990s, donning the style of world-class diplomat by wearing beautifully tailored dark suits to public events.

If fashion represents the man, then military fatigues are what become narcissistic, third-world dictators. Anything else is a feeble attempt at camouflaging their true nature.

Plus, in Castro's case, his choice of dress has added significance. It's not just that it marks his possible return to power, assuming his health continues to improve after a near-death bout with intestinal surgery four years ago. It also represents his inability to change, to progress, to move beyond the world that existed 50 years ago.

I almost feel sorry for the man, in the same way I feel sympathy whenever I see an aged Hugh Hefner clad in a robe and smoking a pipe with a beautiful woman at each arm. Sure, some people may think that's the perfect life. But there's a reason Playboy clubs went out of fashion -- the world tried it, tired of it and trashed it.

Likewise, the world moved beyond Castro's brand of communism after the fantasy wore thin. But he doesn't see that, can't see that, and it's a sad sight to see a man so desperately trying to hold on to the past. Even his rhetoric of late -- centered on nuclear holocaust -- takes us back half a century.

The whole affair would evoke pity if not for the millions who have been hurt in the process.

Still, even a defunct revolutionary like Castro apparently realizes that transitions sometimes must be made slowly, so his return to his fashion roots has come gradually. First, there was the move from jogging suits to civilian clothing. Then at a public appearance this summer he showed up wearing a military jacket with civilian slacks.

Last week, he made a public appearance fully dressed in military fatigues with olive green pants, jacket and cap. Well, almost fully. Something was conspicuously absent -- the medals and laurels that typically accessorize such apparel. What's more, his uniform lacked rank.

That must have caused some confusion among Cuban officials, who didn't seem to know what stature to grant Castro during the public appearance. He was introduced with an equally retro title -- comandante en jefe. Never mind that his brother, Raul, became the head of the government in 2008.

Perhaps Castro's decision to go retro is intended to remind the world of his place in history, given that even his loyal brother is abandoning some of the core tenets of Castro's revolution by implementing more open economic measures.

As a young man on trial in 1953 for fighting Batista's government in Cuba, Castro defended himself with a famous speech in which he declared that history would absolve him. Now, with nothing but a broken country to show for his revolutionary experiment, he must face the likelihood that, instead, history will dissolve him.

So Castro's desire to return to a time when his ideas still held promise is completely understandable. He's holding on to the past because the past is all he has.

That's what you do when you have no future.

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