by Erin Wright
As Barack Obama alit from Air Force One on a rain-splashed tarmac Sunday in Havana, becoming the first U.S. president to step on Cuban soil since well before the island’s 1959 revolution, TV pundits noted that he and President Raúl Castro and other top officials planned to meet face to face this week but that Fidel Castro would be noticeably absent.
Except, of course, that the 89-year-old face of a revolution that reverberates to this day through the Western Hemisphere and much of the Third World can never really be absent in his homeland.
Obama is unlikely to miss the plentiful portraits of Fidel with such comrades as Che Guevara gracing the walls of Old Havana or the myriad photos released by Cuban media ahead of the U.S. contingent’s arrival that show Fidel with Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro — who appears to have slid rather seamlessly into the role of his late mentor, Hugo Chávez, as el comandante’s BFF.
Some observers have suggested that the Cuban media made much of a routine Maduro drop-by just to push Obama’s historic visit downpage a bit. But with differing reports on the state of Fidel’s health, it can be argued that any current picture of him makes international news.
Well before this week, the idea of Obama’s meeting with Fidel was summarily squashed. Nor is Raúl expected to pass along any message from his big brother. Even ESPN opted to delete a tweet deemed mildly positive toward the baseball-loving Fidel.
Obama and Raúl may have tacitly agreed to keep Fidel out of mind during this historic tête-à-tête. But the man who defied gigantic odds to kick out los yanquis and then survived a series of bizarre assassination plots while ruling his beloved isle for decades is believed to be less than thrilled by this attempt to normalize relations – and is determined not to be out of sight.