He may no longer be president of the country he ruled so uncompromisingly for almost half a century, but Fidel Castro once again seems to be everywhere in Cuba. His latest foray into the limelight, announced yesterday, is a first volume of memoirs to be published next month, chronicling the birth of Cuba's communist revolution when his few hundred guerrilla fighters defeated the far larger regular army of the dictator Fulgencio Batista.
The book, entitled The Strategic Victory, appears almost exactly 52 years after the battle of Las Mercedes in the first week of August 1958, when – in the words of a foretaste of its contents provided this week by El Comandante to the Cuban website cubadebate.cu – "the fate of the tyranny was sealed," and its military collapse became inevitable.
It also comes amid gathering hints of a thaw in the deep frozen relations between Cuba and the US. Since he officially took over as president in 2008, Fidel's brother Raul Castro has taken some cautious steps to liberalise the economy, and this month agreed to release 52 Cuban political prisoners.
In Washington, a Congressional committee voted in June to lift the ban on Americans travelling to Cuba and to remove restrictions on farm exports to the island – a sign of the growing recognition on Capitol Hill that not only have 50 years of a comprehensive US embargo failed to topple the regime, but may actually have helped it stay in power.
Mr Castro, about to turn 84, says he has spent months working on the 25-chapter book since becoming ill in 2006 and handing power to Raul. As well as an account of the crucial turning point in the revolution, it will also have a short autobiographical section, describing his childhood and the beginnings of the armed struggle against the Batista regime. A second volume of memoirs, The Final Strategic Counteroffensive, is now in preparation.
But for the former president, the decisive engagement was Las Mercedes when, by his account, his forces suffered only 31 dead, compared to 300 for the government's army, which also lost large quantities of weapons and ammunition. Five months later, in January 1959, the guerrillas took control of Havana, and President Batista fled into exile.
Now, the leader of the revolution is again making news. Although he missed for the first time the traditional anniversary celebrations in June marking the return from the US to Cuba in 2000 of the 6-year old Elian Gonzalez – hailed as a huge victory over Washington – Mr Castro has made seven public appearances in recent weeks, including three televised speeches. For a man who underwent serious intestinal illness and surgery in 2006/7, he seemed fit and vigorous.
His re-emergence is seen by some as a sign of his personal opposition to further liberalisation and accommodation with the US. In public he has always lived modestly, and always argued that accommodation with capitalism would ruin Cuba.
Such was the theme of his autobiography, Fidel Castro: My Life, co-written with the Spanish author Ignacio Ramonet and published in 2006, in which – still as president – he admitted not the slightest error in his organisation of Cuba's society and economy, or in his brutal treatment of dissidents and political opponents. The revolution, he declared, was "irrevocable".