What on earth is Fidel Castro up to? Since he made his first public appearance in four years last month, Cuba's officially retired dictator -- who turned 84 Friday -- hasn't stopped showing up in public, and grabbing the headlines.
Proclaiming himself "totally" recovered from the intestinal ailment that forced him to turn over the presidency to his brother Gen. Raul Castro in 2006, Fidel Castro has made more than a dozen public appearances since he was photographed visiting the National Center of Scientific Investigations on July 7.
There are at least five major theories about what's motivating Fidel's sudden return to the limelight:
No. 1: He is stepping back to send a strong message to Cubans, including his Raul, not to deviate from hard-line communism, at a time when Cuba's economic woes are driving many on the island to think about market-oriented economic reforms. "Castro is trying to reassert two of the main pillars of the Cuban revolution: anti-Americanism and internationalism," writes Jaime Suchlicki, head of the University of Miami's Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies, in a report.
No. 2: Fidel is trying to support Raul, and to send a strong message to the hard-line wing of Cuba's Communist Party that he stands by his brother's limited economic reforms.
"By becoming very visible, Fidel Castro may be telling the Communist Party's orthodox wing: 'Look, I'm lucid, I'm in charge, I know what's going on in the world, I support Raul, and I don't want anybody to do anything against him," Cuban dissident Guillermo Farinas told me in a telephone interview from Santa Clara, Cuba.
No. 3: Castro is trying to grab international headlines to eclipse the news about the death of Cuban political prisoner Orlando Zapata Tamayo earlier this year, and that the dissidents' protests that followed. Until his reappearance, the international news on Cuba was focused on Zapata Tamayo's death and the dissident movement. Today, it's focused on Fidel Castro.
No. 4: Castro is trying to grab headlines to divert world attention from Cuba's recent agreement with the Roman Catholic Church to free 52 political prisoners, and the subsequent release -- rather, forced deportation -- of 21 of them.
In addition, Castro may be trying to keep Cubans on the island from thinking that the prisoners' release was a sign of weakness by the government. That, in the mind of the Castro brothers, would entice peaceful oppositionists to step up their anti-government marches. "As a good politician that he is, he wants to make sure than when people abroad talk about Cuba, they talk about him, and not about the political prisoners," Farinas told me.
No. 5: It's an ego thing. Castro -- the utmost narcissist-Leninist -- could not stand the role of invisible foreign affairs editorialist to which he has been confined for four years. Now that he feels that his health has improved, he can't help but to return to center stage.
My opinion: There may be some truth in all five theories, but I think the answer lies mostly in a combination of the latter three.
It's no coincidence that Castro's first public showing at the National Center for Scientific Investigations took place July 7, the same day that Cuba's Church announced the regime had agreed to free 52 political prisoners. And it's no coincidence that Castro's first extended appearance on TV took place on July 12, only hours before the first group of political prisoners arrived in Spain and started telling the world about the horrors of Cuban prisons.
Castro is trying to get the media to focus on him, rather than on what his victims are saying about his hereditary military dictatorship. And we are all falling into his trap by focusing our eyes on him.
Oppenheimer is a Latin America correspondent for The Miami Herald.