A relaxed and lucid Fidel Castro returned to the limelight after years spent largely out of public view, discussing world events in a raspy voice in his most prominent television interview since falling seriously ill four years ago.
The 83-year-old former Cuban president talked about how tension between the United States and both North Korea and Iran could ultimately trigger a global nuclear war, in an interview on Mesa Redonda – or Round Table – a daily talk show on current events.
The conversation ranged widely, from Pakistan’s need for energy to America’s out-of-control defence spending and China’s decision to lend Cuba money to buy energy-efficient light bulbs.
One thing Mr Castro did not discuss were events in Cuba, where the government yesterday released and sent into exile the first of some 52 political prisoners they promised to free in coming months.
The interview lasted about an hour and 15 minutes – but much of that time was spent with either Mr Castro reading essays by someone else or having his own words read back to him by presenter Randy Alonso.
The scene at a sparsely lit office at an undisclosed location was slightly surreal. It was even unclear whether the interview was live or when it might have been taped.
At one point, Mr Castro referred to a July 5 article as having been published six days ago, which would mean the show was taped on Sunday.
Later, however, the programme’s host read from an essay published on Sunday evening, referring to it as having come out “last night”.
The revolutionary leader wore a dark blue track suit top over a plaid shirt as he took questions. Three academics sat silently nearby as Mr Castro spoke, sometimes nodding in agreement.
Mr Castro warned that an attack on Iran would be catastrophic for America.
“The worst (for America) is the resistance they will face there, which they didn’t face in Iraq,” he said.
As the interview progressed, Mr Castro at times showed flashes of his prowess as a powerful speaker. At other points, however, he paused for lengthy periods and shuffled pages of notes he kept in front of him. Later, he listened as the host read back long tracks from essays Mr Castro wrote recently.
The former Cuban leader shunned the spotlight since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. The illness forced him to step down – first temporarily, and later permanently – and cede power to his younger brother Raul.
His recovery was a closely held state secret, and his health was the subject of persistent rumours among exiles in Florida.
Mr Castro remains head of Cuba’s Communist Party and continues to publish his thoughts on world events in opinion pieces.
While Cubans have become accustomed to reading Mr Castro’s writings, he has stayed largely out of the public eye since ceding power, helping Raul Castro solidify his place as the country’s leader after a lifetime spent in his more famous brother’s shadow.