U.S.-Cuba: Fidel Castro Responds

But the 88-year-old former president has not altogether abandoned the business of telling Cubans what to think since he handed the reins of power in 2008 to his brother, Ra__l.

Cuba_s state-run newspaper, Granma, regularly publishes columns under the byline of the former president that tackle current events and seek to burnish the fading allure of the Cuban revolution that brought him to power in 1959.

Hosts of state-run radio stations read Mr. Castro_s column and discussed its content, which was a rare instance of the government_s leaders allowing the state_s tightly controlled media to discuss sensitive subjects, including political prisoners and the suspicious death of a political activist.

Fidel Castro_s Column in Granma __
Mr. Castro_s column was published on page 2 of Tuesday_s print edition of Granma, its importance flagged by a large front-page headline promoting the column. He appeared to endorse the thrust of the editorial, comparing it to an interview he gave in 1957 as a young rebel leader to a Times foreign correspondent at the time, Herbert Matthews, to refute claims that he had been killed in action.

US Cuba Policy

It is unclear the extent to which Mr. Castro, who has been in failing health for years, still calls the shots in Cuba. There are hard-liners in the country who view rapprochement with the United States as a dangerous gamble that should be undertaken only gradually. But by presenting the argument to a wide audience, Mr. Castro seemed eager to telegraph the message that lower-level Cuban officials have been conveying to their American counterparts in recent years: let_s talk.

Mr. Castro excerpted without comment portions of the editorial that described the dismal state of the Cuban economy and the recent, halting economic reforms the government undertook to wean the nation from dependence on its troubled benefactor, Venezuela. Remarkably, Mr. Castro also included criticism of the Castro regime as an _authoritarian government_ that harasses and detains dissidents.

He took strong exception to one point about Cuba_s failure to explain the suspicious death of the political activist Oswaldo Pay__. Many suspect Mr. Pay__ was killed by security forces. Mr. Castro called the reference in the editorial _slanderous and gratuitous._

Still, Mr. Castro seemed quite pleased to note that deeper engagement with the United States could unlock the potential of one of the hemisphere_s most educated societies (using four exclamation marks). Cuba_s state-run universities have produced one of the most literate societies in the region and the country routinely dispatches its doctors to assist in global crises. _This is indeed recognition,_ Mr. Castro said.

Jaime Suchlicki, a Cuba expert at the University of Miami, said the column appeared to represent an effort by the government to show that it has become more open to criticism and introspection. _They_re trying to show that they_re more liberal,_ he said, arguing that the gesture should be seen with skepticism.

The website of Yoani S__nchez, a popular Cuban blogger, who is among the government_s most high-profile critics, published a lengthy article on the issue on Tuesday. It argued that a closer relationship with the United States would likely help and empower Cubans. Interestingly, the article portrayed Mr. Castro as the leader of the old guard that has been holding back his brother from improving relations with the United States.

Mr. Castro suggested that the United States could benefit from expanded cooperation with Cuba particularly in areas like climate change, commerce and arms control. He also made a reference to the global effort to prevent the Ebola virus from spreading further, in which Cuban doctors are playing a leading role.

His closing line noted that the United Nations will soon vote on whether the United States embargo on Cuba is a sound policy. The annual, nonbinding vote is always an embarrassment for Washington. Last year, only Israel voted with the United States.

New York Times | By ERNESTO LONDO_O

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