The tyrant has reappeared as a sideshow attraction on Hugo Chávez's travelling circus of the absurd, which he took to Santa Clara, Cuba this week-end in honor of the 40th anniversary of "Che" Guevara's ajusticiamiento (bringing to justice).
In what must have been a foretaste of hell for him, Castro was visited for 4 hours by his putative heir, who serenaded him with revolutionary songs and assured him over and over again that he would always live in the air, the land and the sea, which, of course, is just what every dying man wants to hear. Castro took all this in stride. I guess the only time he feels relevant any more is when he is allowed to commune with foreign leaders, who are advised beforehand to pay no heed to anything he says. For foreign dignitaries, an interview with Fidel is the Cuban equivalent of a trip to Madame Tussaud's Museum, except that there is only one wax figurine on display.
Chávez also presented Castro with a painting he had made while imprisoned for his aborted coup in the 1990s. It was described as a "dark-colored painting that showed the bars of his cell and a night scene beyond, with a full red moon and a guard tower in the distance." The description alone makes one cringe. Castro, of course, could not have been more pleased if he had received a Goya: "No one knows the merit that this has, that you did this!" This is exactly what one would tell a 5-year old who just presented you with his latest crayon composition. Castro also had his pretensions in his youth, which proved very costly for the Cuban people to sustain later; but, at least, art never interested him except as booty.
Chávez's painting was instructive, however, as an example of the lengths to which democracies will go to placate their bitterest foes even when they are behind bars. I think it need hardly be said that none of the 2 million prisoners who have passed through Castro's jails in the last 48 years has ever been allowed to paint landscapes in his cell, much less been provided with easel and paints, not even those who were actually artists. Not since Castro himself was incarcerated by Batista and allowed a suite of rooms in prison, his own library, a courtyard for his private use, and all the provisions he requested, including Serrano hams, calamari and H. Upmann cigars, was any prisoner in Cuba indulged as Castro was during his brief confinement, which he himself compared to a stay at a luxury resort.
If Castro had been of an artistic vent, he would no doubt have been provided with painting supplies as well. But his talents were strictly histrionic, and a full-length mirror was all that he required to entertain himself for hours mouthing the speeches of Primo de Rivera and Benito Mussolini while copying their every gesture. Too bad these ephemeral "self-portraits" vanished immediately into the second-dimension, a gallery of madness, in its incipient stages, which it was impossible to exhibit to an incredulous world.
Castro also made a live call to Chávez's television show "Alo, Presidente," and stayed on the line for the full hour. This was certainly distressing since before this appearance he had either been time-delayed or heavily edited. The fact that "cut and paste" wasn't necessary in this instance bespeaks more than just borderline lucidity. But this indication of mental progress was in part offset by his appearance in the official photographs with Chávez, which showed that physically, at least, there is no improvement. It is, and has always been, a matter of time.