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Fidel Castro is still not dead

Last we we noted reports by a Venezuelan doctor who claimed that former Cuban leader Fidel Castro had suffered a major cerebral hemmorage and was near death.

There had been no images released of Castro since March and no public statements since a series of odd koan-like musings on Yoga, trees, and the nature of the universe published in state newspaper Granma in June. 

But Castro has reemerged, somewhat,  with an article blasting rumors of his ill health as "imperialist propaganda". He goes on to say that he can't even remember having a headache.  Regarding his long and unusual silence in the state media, Castro says only, "it is certainly not my role to occupy the pages of our newspapers." The website CubaDebate also released a series of photos of Castro puttering in a garden, including one above showing him with a current issue of Granma.

So, it appears the doctor's report was another false alarm. Although, when a government is reduced to employing the same method kidnappers use to show that hostages are still alive in order to demonstrate the health of their former leader and political figurehead, it's not a good sign. 

It's worth giving a read, if you haven't already, to Bruce Bueno de Mesquita and Alastair Smith's recent article on why leaders conceal evidence of ill health: 

For heads of state, there's also an inherent tension between maintaining good health and revealing to cronies or the public that all is not well. The difficulty, especially in autocratic systems, is that medical care can only be sought at the risk to one's hold on power -- a risk worth taking only in extremis. After all, "loyal" backers -- even family members -- remain loyal only as long as their leader can be expected to continue to deliver power and money to them. Once the grim facts come to light, the inner circle begins to shop around, looking to curry favor with a likely successor. ... Any leader worth his salt must keep terminal illnesses hidden from public view as best as possible. Terminal illness or even extreme old age, which is after all, the most terminal of illnesses, are excellent indicators that the beloved leader won't be reliable for long. Then the view is: Out with the old, in with the new.

Supporters know that their leader, no matter how generous and beloved, simply cannot deliver from beyond the grave. Once their privileges and perks are in jeopardy, the inner circle looks for its next meal ticket.

Of course, in Cuba's case, the inner circle who might be scheming to take power aren't much more spry than Fidel and Raul. 

CubaDebate

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The Election 2012 Weekly Report: Getting heated in Hempstead

Round 2, fight!

There was only one foreign-policy question at the second presidential debate, held at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. on Tuesday, but it provided one of the most memorable exchanges of the night. Audience member Kerry Ladka asked President Barack Obama why the State Department had "refused extra security for our embassy in Benghazi, Libya." (The request was actually for the embassy in Tripoli, not the Benghazi consulate.)

Obama didn't address the question directly, instead vowing again to "investigate exactly what happened, regardless of where the facts lead us, to make sure that folks are held accountable and it doesn't happen again." The president also said that on the day after the attack that killed U.S. Amb. Christopher Stevens, he had "stood in the Rose Garden, and I told the American people and the world that we are going to find out exactly what happened, that this was an ‘act of terror.'"

Sensing an opening, Mitt Romney countered that it "took the president 14 days before he called the attack in Benghazi an act of terror." After Obama asked Romney to "get the transcript" and moderator Candy Crowley interjected, "He did call it an ‘act of terror.'"

In fact, Obama had said, "No acts of terror will ever shake the resolve of this great nation, alter that character, or eclipse the light of the values that we stand for." Some conservative commentators countered that the president was not actually referring to the Benghazi attack, but Obama had also used the description more specifically the following day.

Overall, the debate was generally scored as a win for Obama -- in stark contrast to the first debate two weeks ago -- with liberal commentators pointing in particular to the Benghazi exchange as a pivotal error by Romney. The voters, of course, may have another view.

Not optimal

The fallout from Benghazi continued to dominate media coverage of the election this week. On Sunday, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton made headlines by saying, "I take responsibility" for the security arrangements at U.S. facilities abroad. Some interpreted the remark as an attempt to shift blame away from the president, though Obama later said at the debate, "I'm the president. And I'm always responsible."

The Drudge Report also highlighted a comment Obama made on the Daily Show on Friday -- "If four Americans get killed, it's not optimal" -- though the president was actually responding to a question from host Jon Stewart that used the word "optimal."

The New York Times reported on Friday that one of the prime suspects in the attack, Ahmed Abu Khatalla, had spent several hours sipping frappés and chatting with reporters at a hotel in Benghazi despite U.S. and Libyan pledges to bring the perpetrators to justice. Khatalla accused U.S. leaders of "using the consulate attack just to gather votes for their elections."

Polls keep narrowing

A Pew Research poll this week shows the two candidates running about even on foreign-policy issues. Overall, voters favor Obama 47 percent to 43 percent on handling foreign policy, but that's down from a 15 point spread in September.

The poll also found voters favoring stability over democracy in the Middle East, supporting "taking a firm stand" against Iran's nuclear program over avoiding military conflict, and "getting tougher" with China. Respondents supported Romney's policies on China by a 49-40 percent margin, but gave Obama a narrow edge on handling Iran and political instability in Egypt and Libya.

The final debate

The narrowing polls have raised the stakes for the third and final debate on Monday night, which will focus entirely on foreign policy. The debate will be held at Lynn University in Boca Raton, Fla. CBS's Bob Schieffer will moderate. Although the two campaigns have sparred repeatedly on Iran's nuclear program, instability in the Arab world, and trade with China, a number of issues have yet to be discussed, including the fallout of the European financial crisis, the effects of climate change, and U.S. policy in Latin America and Africa.

You can follow FP's coverage on Monday night on the site and on Twitter using the hashtag #FPDebate.

The latest from FP:

Rosa Brooks makes the case that Obama's foreign policy team is dysfunctional and gives some suggestions on how to fix it.  

Shen Dingli on why China might prefer a Romney presidency.

Former candidate Jon Hunstman gives FP his take on how the race is shaping up.

Joshua E. Keating explains what would actually happen if Romney labeled China a currency manipulator.

David Roberts lays out what the two candidates aren't telling voters about the future of coal.

Christopher Stephen reports from Benghazi on a situation that looks very different from how the U.S. political spin cycle is portraying it.

Douglas Feith and Seth Cropsey argue that the Russian "reset" exemplifies the flaws of Obama's foreign policy.

Mark Bowden on the six biggest myths around the Osama bin Laden raid.

TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images