Sometime in mid-October, media agencies all over the world began, once more, to anticipate Fidel Castro’s death and rework their standing obits. The provocation this time was a rumor begun by a Venezuelan doctor in Florida named José Marquina, who claimed firsthand knowledge of the situation. According to Marquina, an addled Castro suffered a stroke sometime in September or October and is currently convalescing at a lakeside home near Havana. Supposedly, he doesn’t recognize anyone—not his children, not his wife, not his brother Raúl, Cuba’s current head of state.
Few seemed to take note of the fact that Marquina is the same doctor who assured the world that Hugo Chávez was so sick he wouldn’t make it through the Venezuelan elections. Perhaps Marquina’s claim about Castro is easier to swallow because there is so much other evidence to suggest Castro’s demise: After Chávez’s election victory last month, his Cuban mentor offered no public congratulations, and the comandante’s column for Granma, the Cuban Communist party paper, has not appeared since June.
But Fidel Castro has been on the verge of death a million times during my lifetime. Each rumor begins with the tiniest spark, then builds into a prairie fire.