Since the Cold War, our country has had an unhealthy preoccupation with Fidel Castro's mortality. It's like a vestigial tail that our body politic refuses to shake.
Killing Fidel Castro started as a high U.S. government priority before the Bay of Pigs Invasion, as the National Security Archives -- and many others -- have thoroughly documented. Our government spent years, directly and indirectly, trying to hasten his demise. As years past, and plot piled upon plot, a rough accounting tells us that Cuba's former leader endured 600 assassinations attempts. He joked a few years back, "If surviving assassination were an Olympic event, I would win the gold medal."
Not so funny for the United States. Covert action plans like trying to kill Castro, and eliminating other leaders, was undertaken by the executive branch of our government without accountability and oversight. They were a scandal and they were dangerous to U.S. interests. Former U.S. Senator Gary Hart, a Member of "The Church Committee," which investigated the abuses beginning in 1975, wrote us about the executive order issued by President Ford that banned the policy:
"It was a Republican president, Gerald Ford, and a wise one who decreed that the United States was out of the assassination business, a business that set us back in the court of world opinion to at least the same degree as our policy of unilateral invasions."
Nonetheless efforts via CIA "assets" to kill President Castro persisted but never succeeded into the new millennium, and the grim fascination with the Cuban leader's lifespan waxed with every news item about his health only to wane after he recovered.
In the summer of 2006, he temporarily stepped aside as president due to illness, setting off rounds of speculation about a possible cancer. Months later, the Director of National Intelligence, John D. Negroponte, told the Washington Post, ""Everything we see indicates it will not be much longer . . . months, not years."
The rumors never stopped, long after the reins of power were formally transferred in February 2008, and Raúl Castro became Cuba's president. They intensified when he disappeared from public view after being photographed with Pope Benedict XVI. Alarms, false ones, apparently, were rung when he failed to respond publicly to President Hugo Chavez's reelection earlier this month. A Venezuelan journalist, according to the Miami Herald tweeted predictions that Cuba would announce Castro's death within 72 hours. Finally, a Venezuelan doctor who lives in Naples, Florida, who previously issued erroneous claims about Chavez's illness, proclaimed that sources in Cuba had told him that Fidel Castro had suffered a catastrophic stroke.
It turns out, the ghouls, once again, got it wrong. Castro's family issued a statement saying that Fidel was still alive. He published a letter, congratulating graduates on the anniversary of a Cuban medical institute. He met at the Hotel Nacional with Venezuela's former vice president, who waved a picture of the former leader looking very much alive. Finally, as the Associated Press reported, state media published a photograph of Castro holding a "proof of life," dated copy of the newspaper Granma, with an accompanying comment by the former president, "I don't even remember what a headache feels like."
But don't think this will put an end to the U.S. addiction to morbid speculation. The Cuban government protects the health condition of its leaders with the stamp of secrecy.
The city of Miami is updating its "Fidel death plan," and is busy finding a replacement site for its fiesta, as the Mayor Tomás Regalado confessed, the current document still lists the Orange Bowl as the place for celebrants to go.
Early this year, Governor Romney recommitted U.S. policy to the assassination route, "If I'm fortunate to become the next president of the United States it is my expectation that Fidel Castro will finally be taken off this planet."
Then, there's the Helms-Burton Act, which prevents the U.S. from recognizing the government of Cuba until its government no longer includes Fidel Castro and Raul Castro.
So far as we can see, the vestigial tail will continue to wag the dog of U.S. policy for a while longer.