BY ANDRES OPPENHEIMER
Cuban dictator Fidel Castro's no-show at the massive May Day march in Cuba indicates that despite recent signs he is recovering from the illness that forced him to delegate powers nine months ago, his health is worse than most of us thought.This is not based on any medical diagnosis, but on political diagnosis.May Day was a big deal, and not just because it is Castro's favorite holiday. Unlike other major public events he missed in recent months -- including the Non-Aligned summit in September and a postponed 80th birthday official celebration in December -- there were political reasons why Castro wouldn't have skipped Tuesday's event for anything had he been physically able to be there.With television crews from around the world arriving in Cuba in recent days after growing speculation Castro would make his triumphal reappearance, it would have been a unique opportunity to draw international attention to his crusade to get a United Nations condemnation of the United States for the recent release from jail of accused anti-Castro terrorist Luis Posada Carriles.Castro's presence at the International Workers' Day celebration -- even if he had just stood silently for a few moments -- would not only have marked his victorious return from near-death, it would have reenergized his regime at home and abroad.After weeks of largely unsuccessful Cuban and Venezuelan efforts to turn the Posada release on bail into a major international cause, Castro's reappearance would have helped install the case on the international agenda.That would have helped the ailing Cuban leader reverse his image of a decrepit dictator in much of the world and allowed him to ride into the sunset as a courageous David fighting an evil Goliath.That's the image Castro has always sought as a way to justify his absolute hold on power, and it is certainly the one he would like to portray more than ever toward the end of his life.Castro and some of his closest allies had built up significant expectations in recent weeks that he would appear at the May Day rally, an annual show of force where state workers are expected to march and wave Cuban flags.An April 11 article titled Thoughts of the Commander in Chief, apparently written by Castro in Cuba's Communist Party official daily Granma, had called on Cubans to attend the celebrations -- as if many had a choice -- to protest Posada's release.Castro claimed that a Texas judge's order to release Posada was done on ''instructions'' from the White House. Cuba says Posada was one of the masterminds of a 1976 bomb explosion aboard a Cubana de Aviación flight that killed 73 people and is responsible for a bomb explosion in Havana that killed an Italian tourist in 1997.In his Granma article, Castro added that the May Day celebration ''would be the ideal day'' for the Cuban people to show their opposition to President Bush's ''terrorism,'' and to the U.S. refusal to extradite Posada to Venezuela, where he is wanted in the airplane bombing.Almost simultaneously, Cuba's state-owned media released pictures of a healthier Castro, fueling speculation his reappearance was imminent.Last week, Bolivian President Evo Morales said Castro would ''surely'' appear at the parade, after earlier assurances by Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez that Castro was already ''walking, almost jogging,'' and that the Cuban leader had retaken control of ``most government functions.''My conclusion: I'm no medical doctor, and I don't have a way of knowing whether Castro suffers from an intestinal ailment or Parkinson's disease or both, or whether he is terminally ill or will reappear in better health.But as a political observer, I have no doubt Castro wouldn't have missed this opportunity for a million petro-dollars if he had been able to show up, and draw world attention to the Posada case. For now, Castro must be in pretty bad shape. He is ''jogging'' only in Chávez's mind.
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