Cuban dissidents and Cuban-American media are reporting that Havana is plagued with the most serious rumors in months that former dictator Fidel Castro has died, after the one-year anniversary of Castro’s last public appearance transpired without fanfare on Thursday.
The rumors began to circulate almost immediately after President Barack Obama announced that the United States would yield major concessions to the Cuban government in exchange for the freedom of USAID worker Alan Gross, jailed for attempts to bring Internet services to Jewish Cubans. As Fox News Latino reports, Fidel Castro made no public comments on the matter, triggering a wave of rumors in Cuban dissident media. Castro has previously commented on a number of current events, including blaming the United States and the Mossad, the Israeli intelligence service, of creating the Islamic State terrorist group in September.
One dissident blogger in particular, Yusnaby Pérez, exacerbated rumors by writing about them in a Spanish-language post titled “Has Fidel Died?“, in which he detailed changes in behavior from neighborhood communists who had previously been loud and fervent in their displays of support for the Castros, particularly on January 1, the anniversary of the Revolution:
This January 1st, my neighbor Mercy did not hang her “VIVA LA REVOLUCIÓN” sign, as usual, at the entrance to her house. How strange! It is the first year since I can remember that neither Fidel nor my neighbor’s odious sign–with Soviet font–appears.
Pérez tweeted that, almost immediately after publishing the blog post, the Cuban government shut down his entire page, at least within Cuba. His Twitter account appeared unscathed, however, where he posted images of Cubans wearing American flag leggings after the announcement of President Obama’s concessions to the Castros.
Rumors strengthened this week, however, as the anniversary of Castro’s last appearance approached. News outlets in Miami, the de facto capital of the Cuban diaspora, reported this week that the Cuban government had called for a press conference today to follow up Castro’s year-long absence with an update, many speculating that they would announce Castro’s death. The Cuban Foreign Ministry denied that any such press conference was scheduled for today, however, or that they had any major news to break. Instead, they noted that there was no record of an email or text message sent out to convene reporters, as is customary.
But dissidents continue to report strange incidents that give fuel to the rumor that, if not dead, Castro is close to death. Miami media professor Carlos Peñalosa reported that rumors had not been abated by the Cuban government message, and that “[Venezuelan President Nicolás] Maduro must be on his way to Havana”:
SE RUMORA Fuertemente que Fidel murió hoy. Maduro ya debe estar en La Habana. Seguiremos informando.
— Carlos Peñaloza (@GenPenaloza) January 8, 2015
Yusnaby Pérez also reports that there are “strong” rumors that Raúl Castro called the socialist Venezuelan president urgently to Havana, another alleged sign that Castro has died:
Me informan que Nicolás Maduro va destino a La Habana con carácter URGENTE como orden de Raúl Castro. ¿Anunciarán la muerte de Fidel?
— Yusnaby Pérez (@Yusnaby) January 8, 2015
Maduro had traveled to China to ask the Chinese government for financial aid, as the Venezuelan economy is collapsing under his socialist price controls and suffering due to the extremely low international prices of crude oil. And despite the rumors, Venezuelan state media reported that he landed in Iran today, with no apparent emergencies to attend to on the Western Hemisphere. Nonetheless, Venezuelan opposition media are reporting that his departure from China was indicative enough of a route back to Cuba.
While there are no concrete answers to whether the Cuban government is hiding either the impending or already occurring death of the leader of the communist revolution, the Daily Mail has a theory: that Cuban dissident media has confused the former dictator with Fidel Castro Odinga, the son of a prominent Kenyan politician who died this week.