The next words attributed to Fidel came at 7 p.m. on Dec. 31. The message was brief:
With the 50th anniversary of the triumph just a few hours away, I congratulate our heroic people.Imagine that: Just 16 words (17 in the English translation) from the man who is said to have spoken more words on the public record than anyone else in history.
Now that could have been all that Fidel wanted to say. But it doesn't seem to fit his style. I would have expected more words from the leader who holds the Guinness World Record for longest speech at the United Nations.
Those fleeting 16 words make me wonder if Fidel's health has perhaps deteriorated. I know rumors about Fidel's health are always floating around and it seems they're usually wrong. I don't want to contribute to that. But I can't help but wonder what's going on.
Some Cubans are certainly buzzing about it. One Havana resident told me he's heard people speculating this week that Fidel is in very bad shape or has perhaps even died. There's no evidence of this, but some Cubans are whispering and wondering, and some darkly suggest that authorities are keeping the legendary guerrillero on ice until after George Bush leaves office on Jan. 20 to deprive the American president the satisfaction of seeing Fidel's demise during his watch.
What seems a fairly safe bet is that the United States won't drive Fidel from power, the same Havana resident told me.
"You'd have to be an imbecil," he said, to continue with the same strategy toward Cuba for 50 years even though it hasn't worked.
As for 50th anniversary, it's been a low-key affair. I wrote two stories about it for the San Antonio Express-News. The stories are here and here.