HAVANA A new, briefer Fidel Castro has emerged in Cuba, where for the past 10 days he has been dispensing varied bits of wisdom in Twitteresque pieces that have people wondering what he is up to.
The former leader famous for his marathon speeches and long-winded essays is now expressing his thoughts in a couple of paragraphs, haiku-like in their brevity and opaqueness.
He is publishing something almost every day, versus every few weeks as he did when he was writing full-blown columns, or "Reflections" as he calls them.
The change in style and the burst of productivity have led to a number of theories about what Castro is doing, which he may have tried to explain in his first new-format Reflection, written on June 10 under the headline "What are the FC?"
"These constitute a method with which I try to transmit the modest knowledge acquired during many years and that I consider useful for the Cuban functionaries charged with the production of foods essential for the life of our people," he said, without explaining his new succinctness.
But if farming tips were his original purpose, he has gone beyond that with a series of occasionally mystical, occasionally political messages that give the impression he is taking on a larger role after staying mostly behind the scenes since leaving office in 2008.
On Tuesday, he published two Reflections, one a two-paragraph entry on the expanding universe, the other a single paragraph marveling at yoga experts and plugging a Cuban television show.
"The Yogas do things with the human body that escape our imagination. They are there, before our eyes, through images that arrive instantaneously from enormous distances, through 'Voyage to the Unknown.'"
Those were preceded on Monday by a piece about the cultivation of moringa and mulberry trees to provide food and fiber for Cuba.
He praised former East German leader Erich Honecker in one column and dissed former Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping in another, which some viewed as a warning that economic reforms promulgated by his younger brother, President Raul Castro, should not stray too far from communist ideals.
RESISTANCE TO CHANGE
Honecker was famous for his resistance to changing the communist system even as the Cold War was ending, while Deng initiated reforms that led to market socialism in China.
"I had the privilege of observing his (Honecker's) conduct when he was paying bitterly for the debt contracted by the man who sold his soul to the devil for a few shots of vodka," Castro wrote without further explanation on June 11.
"I retain for Honecker the most profound sentiment of solidarity," he said.
Of Deng, he wrote on Friday: "He thought of himself as a wise man and doubtless he was. But he made a small mistake. 'Cuba has to be punished,' he said one day. Our country never even pronounced his name. It was a totally unwarranted offense."
It could be, of course, that Castro, 85, is simply making random observations based on his long years on the world stage, but veteran watchers of the man who ruled Cuba for 49 years think otherwise.
"My best guess is that all the recent Reflections taken together represent a curious new reinsertion into the political milieu by Fidel and/or his surrogates," said former CIA analyst Brian Latell, who has written extensively on the Castros and Cuba.
"The Reflections on Deng and Honecker sound like he's putting out markers that 'we can't change too much,'" Latell said.
Others speculate just the opposite, saying Castro was stepping up his public presence to lend support to his brother and assurance to the country ahead of reforms that many hard-liners may not welcome.
"We're expecting changes with deep repercussions for the country. Fidel is showing that he is still here," said a Communist Party member, who asked not to be named.
While some Cubans accept their former leader's eccentricities, others deride him.
"Too bad a true political humor is not permitted in the Cuban press. Imagine all the jokes about moringa and mulberries," dissident blogger Yoani Sanchez tweeted.
(Editing by Jane Sutton and Peter Cooney)