January 9, 2014

Fidel Castro makes rare public appearance

Visiting an art gallery, he sat on a chair, used a cane and looked frail.

Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro has made his first totally public appearance since April, looking frail, stooped over a cane, supported by a burly aide and trailed by a man identified as his personal physician.

Castro, 87, turned up Wednesday night at the opening of a Havana gallery and art studio owned by Alexis Leyva, known as Kcho, a painter and member of the Cuban parliament whose work has been praised by the aged revolutionary in the past.

Wednesday was the 55th anniversary of Castro’s triumphant arrival in Havana after toppling the Fulgencio Batista government. The government had suspended the traditional celebrations this year because of the cold wave that hit the island.

Castro wore a coat and a green scarf when he arrived at the gallery, apparently aboard the same large white Mercedes Benz van, equipped with a ramp, that he has been seen using in recent years. He was accompanied by his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle.

Eleven news media photos of the visit showed him deeply stooped, walking with a cane and being supported by a tall man identified as a physical therapist by Luis Dominguez, who runs the Miami-based web site Cuba Al Descubierto (Cuba Uncovered).

The photos, released by Getty Images, showed him relatively animated, with thin gray hair and beard, gold colored glasses, his usual black sneakers and some of his bodyguards never too far from the man who ruled Cuba for 47 years.

Dominguez added that a bald man dressed in a blue jacket with white shoulder patches and seen in several of the photos hovering near Castro is his personal physician, Julio Díaz Mesa. The doctor is an Interior Ministry colonel and deputy director of the CIMEQ hospital, reserved for senior government officials.

“That doctor never leaves his side,” said Dominguez, whose web site regularly posts personal information about government officials, such as their addresses, phones and family photos.

The only photo of the gallery visit published in official Cuban media, the Web site Cubadebate, shows Castro from the back, sitting and pointing toward one of the art works. Other photos show he was sitting on a chair set on a Persian-style carpet.

The official Granma newspaper said Castro greeted artists and neighbors of the gallery, named the “Kcho Studio Romerillo, Laboratory for Art,” who “applauded the recent arrival with emotion.”

Castro has kept a low profile since he underwent emergency surgery in 2006 and handed over his powers to his younger brother Raúl, initially temporarily but officially in 2008.

It was the revolutionary leader’s first totally public appearance since April 9, when he turned up at the inauguration of a Havana school and spoke for two hours with students and teachers about the environment, fuel prices and other issues.

Miami radio commentator Max Lesnik has reported that he ran into Castro at a wedding reception in early December held at a Havana restaurant known as La Finca de Erasmo. The wedding was for Castro’s son, Antonio Castro Soto del Valle, an orthopedic surgeon and top official of Cuba’s baseball federation.

Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro used his Twitter account to post photos of his meeting with Castro in Havana on Dec. 21, and the Cuban government made public photos of Castro meeting with French writer Ignacio Ramonet early last month.

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