Fidel Castro appeared on Cuban state-run television for more than an hour this evening, delivering an apparently pre-taped performance that left little doubt the former president has fully recovered from the illness that led him to turn power over to his brother Raul four years ago.
Castro, who appeared to be in complete control of his faculties, used the interview to warn that a war between the United States and Iran was imminent.
Wearing a dark blue track suit and answering questions put to him by a reporter, Castro appeared in far better condition than he did in August 2009, when a 20-minute video of him meeting with Venezuelan law students was aired.
Castro, sitting behind a desk and shuffling papers, warned that Iran would not cede to U.S. and international pressure and any war between them would "inevitably be nuclear."
He termed the Iran standoff "the most serious crisis" on the international scene because "the Iranian government will not retreat." The idea that Iran would "go running to ask forgiveness from the Yankees" was "absurd," he said.
The state-run media had headlined throughout the day that television and radio would broadcast a "special 'Round Table' with Commandante Fidel Castro Ruz to evaluate the dangerous events taking place in the Middle East."
Castro has written a series of opinion columns in recent weeks predicting that new U.N. sanctions against Iran and the movement of U.S. and Israeli war ships in the area are a prelude to a war that could escalate into a nuclear conflagration.
"The empire is at the point of committing a terrible error that nobody can stop. It advances inexorably toward a sinister fate," he wrote on July 5.
The "empire" is how Castro usually refers to the United States, his bitter foe from the time he took power in Cuba in a 1959 revolution.
In a column published on Sunday night, Castro said the "principal purpose" of his writings had been to "warn international public opinion of what was occurring."
Fidel Castro Predicts U.S.-Iran War on Cuban TV
The columns have attracted little attention internationally, which may be why he decided to appear this evening.
Castro defended his position with his usual attention to detail about the military forces headed for confrontation in the Middle East.
Castro visited a science institute Wednesday, his first known visit to a public location since he handed over power to his brother Raul Castro in July 2006 to undergo intestinal surgery. Complications from that surgery nearly killed him and led to his resignation in 2008, according to one of his numerous columns.
Castro has been living in retirement on the outskirts of Havana for the last two years, writing about international affairs for state media, receiving visitors and consulting with his brother and other officials.
Until now, Cubans and the world have had to be content with an occasional video clip or photograph of the legendary figure.
Virtually all Castro's foreign visitors since January 2009 have said that Castro is in good physical and mental shape given his 83 years and recent health problems. Neighbors have said he occasionally takes walks in the area.
Castro's sudden public presence comes as a deal brokered by his brother with the Catholic Church and Spain begins to bear fruit with the announcement that 52 political prisoners jailed in a 2003 crackdown on opponents will be released.
With the first group of prisoners and their families departing for Spain, the interview may have been intended to demonstrate that he is very much around and therefore supports Raul Castro's dialogue with the church, the prisoner release and other policies, such as privatizing retail sector services and eliminating government gratuities, that reportedly have more orthodox members of the Communist party up in arms.
Fidel Castro Doesn't Address Cuban Issues in Television Interview
"He is apparently in condition to take a more active role and for sure he will do that," state employee Pedro Estrada said in a telephone interview from Guantanamo province.
"The people are interested in hearing what he has to say about many subjects," he added.
But Estrada will have to wait to hear what the former president thinks about Cuban issues.
Castro, who has not written or uttered a word on Raul Castro's domestic policies and the internal situation of the country since March 2009, a few days after his brother fired the cabinet he had inherited from him, made no mention of them Monday.