The situation in Cuba remains uncertain, with no official word on Fidel Castro’s health since yesterday’s announcement that he was stable and in good spirits. Ricardo Alarcon, speaker of Cuba’s parliament, said however that Castro was “very alive and very alert“, and that he expected him to have a “normal period of recovery” after intestinal surgery.

Castro’s brother Raul, who has taken over as acting president, has not been seen in public, and although there is no evidence for the rumour that Fidel is actually dead, a US intelligence official speculated that “This is their transition plan out for a test drive”. The Age reported American reaction with a curious burst of moral relativism, saying that Senator Mel Martinez had promised to maintain the embargo “while Cuba remained what he called a dictatorship” – as if that was somehow a controversial description.

It remains ironic that it has taken ill health to accomplish what the US has been trying to achieve through increasingly desperate measures over four and a half decades. In that time, a host of dictators, communist or not, have been driven from power by the efforts of their own people. But the one who was most the focus of American attention seems to have only been strengthened by it.

Some of that attention reached truly bizarre heights. The Smoking Gun website has published what purports to be a US Army memo listing 16 possible anti-Castro operations, with codenames such as “Operation Good Times” (faked propaganda photos of Castro) and “Operation Free Ride” (distributing free plane tickets to Cubans). The famous exploding cigar project doesn’t appear, but otherwise the plans are all too plausible.

Some are more sinister than comic: “Operation Bingo”, for example, plans for a fake Cuban attack on Guantanamo Bay (long before the time of David Hicks, of course), to be followed by US retaliation in the hope of provoking a real war that would overthrow Castro. But even that is no crazier than what the Kennedy administration actually attempted at the Bay of Pigs.

One can’t help thinking that the policy of benign neglect that worked in so many other countries would have had a better chance of freeing Cuba. Sometimes an obsessive enemy is the best thing that tyrants have going for them.