Fidel Castro Shares Views on Warming of Relations

By Victoria Burnett, The New York Times

January 27, 2015

MEXICO CITY — Fidel Castro has ended his silence of almost six weeks over the deal to restore diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba, writing in a letter that he supported a peaceful end to conflict but still distrusted American politics.

“We will always defend cooperation and friendship with all of the world’s people, among them our political adversaries,” Mr. Castro wrote in the letter. It was read to a student federation to observe the 70th anniversary of his matriculation at the University of Havana, and it was published late on Monday in Granma, the Communist Party’s official newspaper.

The conspicuous absence of Mr. Castro, 88, after the announcement on Dec. 17 of the détente after decades of tension and diplomatic estrangement prompted rumors in Havana and Miami that he was dead.

Those were largely calmed by a letter two weeks ago from him to the Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona.

But that letter did not mention the re-establishment of diplomatic relations with the United States, leaving analysts to wonder whether Mr. Castro, who had stared down nearly a dozen American presidents during the long standoff between the two nations, approved of the deal.

Mr. Castro, who handed the reins of power to his brother Raúl because of serious illness — first in 2006, then officially in 2008 — has made only sporadic appearances over the last few years and has not been seen in public in a year.

In the letter published on Monday, Mr. Castro was wide-ranging, skipping from global economic inequality and Greek notions of utopia to Cuba’s role in the Angolan conflict before addressing the reconciliation of Cuba and the United States.

“I shall explain my essential position in a few words,” he wrote. “I do not trust the politics of the United States, nor have I exchanged a word with them, but this is not, in any way, a rejection of a peaceful solution to conflicts.”

His brother, he wrote, had “taken the relevant steps in line with the prerogatives and authorities awarded to him by the National Assembly and the Cuban Communist Party.”

The State Department said Tuesday that Mr. Castro’s comments were a “positive sign,” but cautioned that distrust was mutual.

“It’s fair to say there’s a lack of trust, but we’re working to build that trust,” said Jen Psaki, a State Department spokeswoman, in Washington.

Ms. Psaki, who noted that the State Department could not confirm whether Mr. Castro had actually written the comments, said that he referred to respecting “international norms and principles” in ending the two countries’ bitter impasse.

American officials look forward to Cuba’s implementing those norms “for a democratic, prosperous and stable Cuba,” she said, adding that nobody believed Mr. Castro was “planning to be a part of” coming negotiations with Cuban officials.

Brian Latell, a former analyst at the C.I.A. who has tracked the Castros for decades, noted that the letter did not mention the three Cuban spies who had been imprisoned in the United States and were returned to the island as part of the negotiations.

Fidel Castro had campaigned for years for the return of the spies, originally part of a group of five, turning them into a cause célèbre in left-leaning circles abroad.

“He made it such a principle, but he hasn’t reacted to that and he hasn’t seen them,” Mr. Latell said, referring to the spies. “Why hasn’t he taken some credit?”

The letter seemed to serve Raúl Castro’s political purposes more than Fidel’s, Mr. Latell said, adding, “You have to wonder who is composing these utterances.”

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