HAVANA — A lively and healthy-looking Fidel Castro appealed to President Obama to stave off global nuclear war in an emphatic address to parliament Saturday that marked his first official government appearance since emergency surgery four years ago.
Castro, who turns 84 in a week, wore olive-green fatigues devoid of any military insignia and arrived on the arm of a subordinate who steadied him as he walked. The approximately 600 lawmakers present sprang to their feet and applauded, as the gray-bearded revolutionary stepped to a podium that had been set up for him, grinning broadly and waving.
Castro has been warning in written opinion columns for months that the U.S. and Israel will launch a nuclear attack on Iran and that Washington could also target North Korea — predicting Armageddon-like devastation and fighting he expected to have already begun by now.
"Eight weeks ago, I thought that the imminent danger of war didn't have a possible solution. So dramatic was the problem that I didn't see another way out," Castro told the legislature. "I am sure that it won't be like that and, instead ... one man will make the decision alone, the president of the United States."
Castro didn't mention domestic Cuban politics or the foundering economy — instead sticking to the threat of war, the issue for which he convened Saturday's special session of parliament.
Still, his attendance, along with a slew of recent public appearances following a nearly four-year absence from public view, is sure to raise more questions about how much of a leadership role Castro is ready to reassume.
Is he itching to retake his position as Cuba's "maximum leader" — or simply well enough to warn lawmakers in person that the end of the world could be near?
Castro's speech lasted barely 11 minutes — possibly a record for the man who became famous for his hours-long discourses during 49 years in power — and was largely devoid of his usual America bashing.