Fidel Castro is reportedly alive and well, despite speculation to the contrary. Fidel Castro, now 88 years old, ruled Cuba since 1959 until he handed control to his brother, Raul, in 2006. Since then, Castro has become reclusive, fueling rumors of poor health and even death.
The most recent rumors about his death may have resulted from reports of the death of Fidel Castro Odinga, the son of a former Kenyan prime minister, who died on January 4. Odinga’s death is currently under investigation by Kenyan police.
As an apparent response to the speculation, Castro wrote a letter to Argentinian soccer legend Diego Maradona this weekend, the television network Telesur reports. Maradona is in Havana filming a television show. In the letter, Castro states that his health is good and discusses current events, although it is unclear whether or not he comments on improving relations with the United States.
Castro had not been seen in public in over a year and the last photos of him were released after his meeting with Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro in August. This absence from public view and Castro’s silence on important issues, especially the normalization of relations with the United States, also fueled the rumors of his demise.
One of the conditions for normalization of relations with the U.S. was that Cuba would release 53 political prisoners. National Security Council spokeswoman Bernadette Meehan confirmed that Cuba has completed the release, stating the following.
“We welcome this very positive development and are pleased that the Cuban government followed through on this commitment.”
Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) released the list of dissidents Castro was to free, which had been provided to him by Secretary of State John Kerry. Dissident groups that had members imprisoned checked the list to see if their associates were being released. Jose Daniel Ferrer, head of the Patriotic Union of Cuba, confirmed that about 40 people on the list were indeed freed, but at least 11 members of his group remained behind bars. Ferrer expressed gratitude for the Obama Administration’s efforts to secure the freedom of political prisoners in Cuba, but also accused the Castro regime of not acting in good faith.
Fidel Castro’s lack of commentary about normalization of relations with the U.S. may cause continued speculation about the elderly former dictator’s health. A photo did not accompany the letter and there was no explanation of how Castro’s letter got to Maradona.