On July 29, 1953, three days after the failure of the audacious assault on Santiago de Cuba's Moncada barracks, Fidel Castro was dead. The Cuban newspaper Ataja said so.
His obituary has been at the ready ever since. Editors have reached for it over and over, only to put it away again. With each premature burial, the obituary gets a little longer. Another sentence was added to it on July 31, 2006, when the world's longest-running head of state temporarily transferred various administrative functions to his brother Raúl and to other officials, as provided by Cuban law, while he underwent and recuperated from surgery for intestinal bleeding.
Until they can run Fidel's obit, the editors don't know what to print.
They want him dead.
They really want him dead in Miami, where he is deeply hated in an extraordinarily personal way. For decades the headlines there have read: Castro will fall in six months. Castro has cancer, he has Parkinson's, he fainted, he's dying, he's turning 60, he's turning 70, he's turning 80.
As the post-July 31 honking and waving died down, Republican Congressman Lincoln Díaz-Balart of Florida threatened the Cuban military with a hit list. "The military in Cuba is going to have a choice in the upcoming days and weeks and months," Oscar Corral of the Miami Herald quoted Díaz-Balart as saying. "They either stand with the Cuban people or their names will be on a list of infamy that the Cuban people will have access to in the future.... It's very important for the military to know that it's certainly not on [sic] their interest to get on that list."
The media war with Cuba employs spectacularly belligerent rhetoric. It has long been standard US government practice to refer to the Cuban government as a "regime." Regime change in Cuba is official US policy, codified in law as of 1996, when Bill Clinton signed the deliriously expansive Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act. As per that law, a Cuban government that includes Raúl Castro is specifically unacceptable as a "transition government." So is any government that jams the propaganda broadcasts aimed at Cuba by Radio and TV Martí. Permitting them is a legal condition for recognition by the United States.
One regime threatens another. A Google search turns up 464,000 hits for "Castro regime," but "Bush regime" yields 1.4 million. On August 3, in a statement rhetorically addressed to the Cuban people, George W. Bush reinforced Díaz-Balart's threat: "We will take note of those, in the current Cuban regime, who obstruct your desire for a free Cuba."
Former United Nations ambassador Ricardo Alarcón is presumably on Washington's list of henchmen (the word is used in official United States discourse), since he is President of the People's Power National Assembly. When Alarcón was interviewed by phone on August 2 for NPR's All Things Considered, interviewer Michelle Norris decided that Raúl Castro was supposed to have spoken in public by then. She pressed Alarcón on it, asking, "When will the people of Cuba hear from him?"
He answered, "We don't operate on the basis of entertaining the American media."
The United States wanted drama. Havana was calm.