By William Tucker
Late last week the Miami Herald ran a story claiming that Fidel Castro, the long time leader of Cuba, had suffered a massive stroke and was left in a vegetative state. The report quoted the same Venezuelan doctor, Jose Rafael Marquina, who had made inaccurate statements regarding Castro’s health in the past. As the title of this article would suggest, this is not the first time Fidel has been killed off in print. He is regularly killed by Twitter – sometimes on a weekly basis. In fact, he is not the only notorious world leader to have constant rumors regarding his impending demise circulating in the international media. Despotic leaders such as Kim Jong-il and even Hugo Chavez of Venezuela have taken time to refute such claims. Naturally, this would beg the question of why, how, and where do these rumors start? Perhaps of equal importance would be understanding who starts these rumors in the first place.
The internet and the associated social media sites often stymie the investigations of rumors because this modern form of communication spreads so quickly. It is possible, however, to hypothesize over the reasons one might start a rumor. Understand that there are those who initiate internet rumors for nothing more than pleasure of attention. That being said, there are certainly practical reasons why these rumors would be spread. There are plenty of political opponents who would like to cause their despised leaders as many problems as they can. Often times these seemingly petty forms of trouble are one of the few means available to a dissident in a police state. Strangely enough they can have an impact. Disinformation spread from a foreign source can still sow discord among the inner elite as well as among dissidents that are still in the country. This methodology was employed quite well against North Korea. So well in fact that the current leader Kim Jong-un tried to have his older brother assassinated in China.
Naturally this same approach can be used by adversarial foreign intelligence services. Such may be the case in regards to Cuba. Fidel Castro is human and he is 86 years old. In essence, it is a given that he will eventually die and not by Twitter. Those who monitor Cuban politics closely have accurately noted that Raul, although capable, hardly possess the charisma of Fidel. It is also worth noting that Raul is also advanced in years meaning that it is conceivable that both brothers could die in close proximity to each once their time comes. This has forced analysts to focus on possible successors to Castro brothers. Nation-states such as the U.S. and other neighbors in the region have a vested interest in knowing what may transpire in the wake of Fidel’s death. By using rumors of poor health or possible death Castro has been repeatedly forced to make public appearances to belay these rumors. Furthermore, it helps to reveal the posturing by political sycophants who are trying to bolster their fortunes in any future regime. In essence, rumors have purpose for some, but for the rest they should be viewed with skepticism until the funeral procession is in full view.