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Castro’s Return to Public Could Signal Slower Changes

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro’s request for an extraordinary session of parliament to discuss foreign affairs was granted today, signaling the retired leader of the 1959 revolution may be taking a greater role in government and recent efforts to open up the economy.

The National Assembly will meet Aug. 7 to “analyze various issues of interest in the international situation,” state-owned newspaper Juventud Rebelde reported today. Castro, dressed in a military-style green shirt, said during an appearance at a July 27 celebration of Cuba’s Revolution Day that he would request such a session.

Castro, 83, returned to the public eye last month, giving his first television interview in at least three years on July 13 and releasing an autobiography this week about the years leading up to the revolution. Fidel began transferring control to his brother Raul in July 2006, when he underwent intestinal surgery, and officially stepped down as president in 2008.

Fidel’s reemergence suggests he has a hand in recent economic changes announced by his brother and may be ensuring government controls aren’t loosened too much in one of the world’s few remaining communist countries, said Eusebio Mujal-Leon, a professor of Cuban studies at Georgetown University.

“Fidel is to his core opposed to anything that smacks of capitalism,” Mujal-Leon said. “His return makes deeper and faster economic reforms more improbable.”

Scaling Back Controls

Raul Castro, 79, announced in a speech to the National Assembly on Aug. 1 that the government will allow more citizens to work for themselves rather than for the state.

The plan aims to make up for state workers who will be laid off to reduce inefficiency, he said.

In addition to the measures to scale back controls on small businesses, Raul Castro has announced some steps to open up the economy, including allowing taxi drivers to operate as small businesses rather than as state workers, allowing people to buy mobile phones, and lifting a ban on citizens using tourist hotels.

Still, Castro in his speech rejected commentary by political analysts who expected the announcement of economic changes with “capitalist recipes.” Those comments signaled that deeper economic changes weren’t in the cards, Mujal-Leon said.

“With the experience accumulated in more than 55 years of revolutionary struggle, it seems that we’re not doing that badly, and neither desperation nor frustration have been our companions along the way,” Raul Castro said Aug. 1.

No ‘Active Interest’

Fidel’s reappearance may be a sign that he agrees with his brother’s management of the country because he hasn’t voiced any opinions about domestic policy, much less disagreed publicly with Raul’s decisions, said Philip Peters, a vice president and Cuba expert at the Lexington Institute, a public policy research group in Arlington, Virginia.

“I don’t see any evidence that he’s taking an active interest in running the country,” Peters said in a telephone interview.

Fidel’s book, titled “The Strategic Victory,” narrates Castro’s early years in 25 chapters, including photos, maps and illustrations of combat weapons, Castro wrote July 27 in a “Reflections” column published on the Cuba Debate website.

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