HAVANA—Fidel Castro presented his new book at a closed-door ceremony Monday, a work he says contains an autobiographical section and details a major military victory that sped his rise to power in 1959.
The book, "The Strategic Victory," has yet to be released to the general public. Organizers of the unveiling ceremony said 3,500 copies would be made available in coming days and 50,000 copies would eventually be published.
State television showed images of Castro's appearance at Havana's convention center, alongside his longtime official biographer, Katiuska Blanco. Wearing a red, short-sleeve shirt and appearing relaxed, Castro spoke for more than an hour, largely reading from the book and pointing out highlights to a crowd that included ex-castaway Elian Gonzalez and his family.
It was the second time Gonzalez, who was 6 when he was at the center of a nasty international custody battle pitting Cuba against the United States and who is now 16, was at a public event where Castro turned up.
When he was through reading, Castro took some historical questions from the crowd, then signed copies of the book.
Castro, whose 84th birthday is Aug. 13, has made a string of near daily public appearances of late, after staying almost completely out of the public eye since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006. He ceded power to his younger brother Raul on a temporary basis, then and stepped down as president for good in February 2008.
Fidel has not been seen publicly with Raul and has skipped major political events, such as Sunday's session of Cuba's parliament or last week's celebration marking Revolution Day, the top holiday on Cuba's official calendar. But he has been popping up in other, unlikely places, from a meeting with Cuban ambassadors at the foreign ministry to the dolphin show at the Havana aquarium.
"I thought that this work wouldn't happen. We've been working on it a long time, and now I received this surprise," Castro said at the book reading.
He said he was surprised the book is being released so quickly, in just a matter of weeks after he completed it.
The author of numerous books, Castro already completed and released another volume since his health crisis, writing on Cuba's role in attempts to broker peace between Colombia's government and rebel groups that have waged a decades-long civil war in that country.
The new book runs nearly 800 pages and includes maps, photos and illustrations of the weapons that his bearded rebels used during an important battle in 1958 that saw Castro's forces prevail over thousands of government soldiers in the isolated and rugged Sierra Maestra mountains in Cuba's east.
That victory paved the way for dictator Fulgencio Batista to flee Cuba the following New Year's Day.
The lengthy excerpts Castro read Monday talked about the 1958 military battle.
Castro says his latest book also contains details about his early life. A possible memoir by Cuba's top revolutionary has long intrigued those in publishing circles, but exactly what Castro has been willing to reveal in his autobiographical section remains to be seen.
Castro has said he is already working on a follow-up book.