MEXICO CITY — Like a tropical storm, rumors about the failing health of Fidel Castro strengthened, swirled, dissipated and left everyone guessing again Friday, as a doctor in Florida — and a Twitter account falsely linked to the Cuban foreign minister — claimed that Cuba's retired leader was on his deathbed or dead.
It was at least the fifth time (or was it 50th?) that Castro had been sent to the grave by uncorroborated accounts since he left government after a mysterious ailment in 2006. And as with past claims, the reality of the situation was impossible to immediately determine.
Members of Castro's family and the Cuban government, which considers Castro's health a matter of national security, have denied the rumors. Officials with the Cuban Foreign Ministry, in a rare step, even used Twitter on Friday to denounce an account claiming to be administered by the foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez Parrilla, after it sent out a death announcement for Castro.
The Twitter account was created only Thursday and, despite its official-seeming pronouncements, did not match the Foreign Ministry's Twitter handle.
Similarly, the comments of a Venezuelan doctor in Naples about the state of Castro's health raised eyebrows because of the source: Dr. Jose Marquina, a sleep specialist who claimed in April that Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's cancer-stricken president, was in his "last days."
Marquina seems to have set off the latest round of speculation by telling a Spanish newspaper and the Miami Herald this week that Castro had had a stroke and was in a vegetative state. He offered no proof, and when asked outside his Florida home Friday to explain the basis for his assertions, he said "No, no, no, no, no. I'm not doing interviews."
Cuban state media published a letter Thursday supposedly written by Castro, in which he congratulated medical school graduates. But for those who watch Cuba closely, Castro's long illness, his age, 86, and the lack of visual proof that he is still alive and well have become too much to ignore.