HAVANA — It has been more than a year since Fidel Castro burst back on the scene with a spate of public appearances and dire warnings of nuclear Armageddon. But after a flurry of activity that quieted speculation about his exit from the world stage, the Cuban revolutionary's revival tour seems to be over.
Castro has not appeared in public since a key Communist Party meeting in April when he seemed unsteady and unusually frail. He has also virtually stopped writing his trademark opinion pieces and didn't make a statement or release a photograph on his 85th birthday in August.
The silence has prompted the usual death rumors from Miami, propagated on exile radio and television stations and through social media sites such as Twitter. Castro's health has even been the subject of a computer virus embedded in a spam e-mail titled "Fidel is Dead," which features a doctored, grainy photograph that appeared to show the Cuban leader in a coffin.
In Venezuela, a newspaper claimed Castro's supposedly failing health explained why President Hugo Chávez remained in his home country for a third round of chemotherapy, after receiving treatment in Havana on the first two occasions.
The Cuban government, as always, has remained silent. Requests by the Associated Press for comment on Castro's health and on what he does with his days went unanswered.
"My premise with Fidel Castro is you start with the fact that he's Lazarus and proceed from there," said Ann Louise Bardach, the author of Without Fidel: A Death Foretold in Miami, Havana and Washington, which she began writing in 2006 to coincide with Castro's much-predicted demise.
"Whatever you think of him, this man has a life force which is formidable," Bardach said. "We're not dealing with a normal mortal here. If there is ever going to be somebody who never dies, it's him."
Castro stepped down in July 2006 and turned over power to his brother Raul due to a serious intestinal illness that he later said nearly killed him. He continued to publish opinion pieces, called "Reflections," in the state newspaper Granma, but remained out of the public eye for four years before suddenly reappearing in July 2010. He met then with economists, diplomats and lawmakers, and even attended a dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.
Before long, Castro was back rallying throngs of supporters under the Havana sun and had dusted off his olive-green military fatigues. He seemed to soak up the attention.
He used his return to the limelight to warn about the threat of a nuclear exchange pitting the United States and Israel against Iran. Later, as Arab Spring protests roiled both pro- and anti-Western governments in the Middle East, Castro showed solidarity with longtime ally Moammar Gadhafi by publishing biting criticism of NATO and the United States. He wrote that the intervention in Libya was designed to seize Libyan oil fields.
In April, Castro relinquished his final official role as Communist Party chief, making a dramatic appearance with his brother at the close of a key party gathering. Castro needed the help of a young aide to walk to his chair as hundreds of delegates applauded, some with tears in their eyes. Once seated, he seemed to slump over.
Since then, Castro has made no public appearances, though photos and video of him meeting with Chávez and other visiting dignitaries have been released.