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Castro's public appearances have Cuba experts baffled

Was Fidel Castro reminding everyone that he still has power? Was he silently endorsing his brother's promise to free 52 political prisoners? Or was it simply a narcissist's grab for the limelight?

Whatever the reason, Castro's flurry of five highly public appearances in nine days, after months in the shadows, generated renewed speculation on his lingering influence over Cuban affairs.

Cuban TV showed him on a videotaped interview Monday, but his visits to the Foreign Ministry on Friday, the Havana Aquarium on Thursday and two think tanks within a week were his first appearances before relatively large audiences since undergoing emergency surgery in 2006.

Analysts readily admit they're speculating when it comes to commenting on the intentions of a wily revolutionary who held power for 47 years before turning power over to his brother Raúl Castro.

Most remarked on his apparent good health and linked the appearances to Raúl's agreement to free the prisoners amid unprecedented talks with the Catholic church -- though Fidel never mentioned the issue and spoke only about his predictions of nuclear war in Iran and North Korea.

"It is an indirect endorsement" of Raul's decision, declared dissident Guillermo Farinas, who staged a 135-day hunger strike to push for the release of 26 jailed dissidents in ill health.

Peter De Shazo, head of the Americas Program at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, noted that Castro's appearances could have been meant for a domestic audience.

"Perhaps there's some kind of internal dynamic in the regime that has prompted Fidel to substantially increase his public profile, to underscore that he's still around and . . . capable of being involved in decision making," De Shazo said.

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