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Feeling well, Fidel wants to recuperate his power in Cuba, but brother Raul is not his puppet any longer.

A clearly revived Fidel Castro marks his 84th birthday Friday, officially out of government yet holding veto power over brother Raúl’s plans for economic reforms and hopes for improved U.S. relations.

That much is pretty certain, said analysts in Cuba and abroad who have watched Fidel make a dozen unusually public appearances after a near-fatal health crisis in 2006 that forced him out of the limelight.

What remains less clear is the balance of power between Fidel and Raúl, amid reports of tensions between the brothers and hints that the succession from the older to the younger Castro is far from settled.

Fidel Castro, who has declared himself “totally” recovered from his health crisis, appears to have gained back some of his weight and seemed lucid and even engaging in his recent appearances, though at times he has appeared tired and made some errors in his comments.

Unlike earlier this year, when he was often seen walking around his closely guarded neighborhood west of Havana, Castro now walks with the aid of a tall bodyguard who steadies him by the elbow.

Yet, he remains the iconic leader of a revolution that has ruled Cuba for five decades — as well as first secretary of the governing Communist Party. Raúl, 79, succeeded Fidel as president in 2008, but remains second secretary of the party.

“Power remains in the hands of Fidel because he still heads the Party, which the constitution says is the country’s top leadership force,” noted Vladimiro Roca, a Havana dissident and son of a founder of Cuba’s pre-revolution communist party.

Cuban Cardinal Jaime Ortega told U.S. officials during his recent visits to Washington that Fidel Castro retains veto powers over key issues, said a Cuba analyst who asked for anonymity to protect his sources.

Not so, said Armando F. Mastrapa, who runs a blog on Cuba’s political-military affairs, www.cubapolidata.com . He argued Raúl prodded his brother back into the limelight to show the new government is in full control.

“There is no doubt that Raúl and his acolytes are in total control of the country. Fidel is no longer the controller-in-chief but rather the controlled-in-chief,” Mastrapa said.

Others believe the Castros have established a “co-government,” with Fidel focusing on international affairs and Raúl handling domestic issues under his brother’s careful eye.

Whatever the balance of power between the brothers, Fidel’s spate of recent appearances have raised eyebrows for their timing and context, although his comments focused largely on his repeated warnings of the threat of nuclear war in Iran and the Korean Peninsula.

His first appearance was at the National Center for Scientific Investigations in Havana on July 7 — the very day Ortega announced Raúl had agreed to free 52 political prisoners. Fidel has never mentioned the prisoner release, the biggest since 1998, in public.

On July 26, Fidel delivered a floral arrangement at the monument to independence hero José Martí in Havana, at the same time Raúl was in the central city of Santa Clara for the official act marking the start of the revolution. Despite widespread anticipation that Raúl would unveil some economic reforms, he did not speak in Santa Clara.

And on Aug. 7, Fidel addressed a special session of the legislative National Assembly of People’s Power, which he had requested, in his first official government act since 2006.

While he wore sports clothes during his initial appearances, Fidel later switched to a military-styled jacket and pants in his traditional olive green, though without any insignia of military rank.

Raúl , apparently referring to the reports of tensions between the brothers, used the word “unity” 14 times during an Aug. 1 speech to the National Assembly.

“The unity among revolutionaries, and between the leadership of the revolution and the mayority of the people, is our most important strategic weapon,” he declared. “Even if it pains our enemies, our unity is today more solid than ever.”

What’s more, the day after Fidel addressed the Assembly, the newspaper Granma published a front-page photo of the brothers talking at the special session — though Cuban television’s broadcast of the event showed they barely interacted.

Fidel himself coyly denied that he still wielded any official power in an interview with the Venezuela-based Telesur television network this week.

“What I do is to talk about things and events so that each person can decide,” he said. “You have to understand that the compañeros (in government) are not people that I should be leading by the finger, taking by the hand to do things. What I want is that they think.”

At the root of Fidel Castro’s return to the spotlight appears to be a wish to preserve two key pillars of his legacy that his brother may weaken: a Soviet-styled economy tightly controlled by the government, and a visceral hostility toward Washington.

“I would say everyone in Cuba is waiting for, wishing for, demanding the economic changes that Raúl has been talking about, and that all agree the biggest factor in the internal opposition is none other than Fidel,” said Domingo Amuchastegui, a former foreign policy analyst with Cuba’s Interior Ministry now living in Miami.

While Fidel has been repeatedly warning that the U.S. “empire” could start a nuclear war, Cardinal Ortega told The Washington Post last week that Raúl remains deeply interested in improving Cuba-U.S. relations.

“Fidel Castro’s last battle is designed to cut off the positive vibes that relations between the Cuban and U.S. governments are rapidly gaining,” Norberto Fuentes, a long-time member of the Castro brothers’ inner circle who now lives in Miami, wrote in an article published in the website Cubaencuentro.com.

Any mayor change in Cuba’s direction would have to be approved by a full congress of the Communist Party. Raúl announced that one would be held in the last half of 2009, then put it on hold indefinitely. On Aug. 1, he said a commission is preparing a session.

“Last year, people expected a congress because they were counting on Fidel having died by that time. While Fidel lives there will be no congress, because he will be the first to block it,” Roca said.

Differences between the brothers have been reported occasionally since the 1950s, with Raúl always bowing to Fidel’s decisions but sometimes retreating to sulk in remote parts of the country.

Yet Cuba-watchers say unconfirmed reports coming out of the island, where its leadership rules in near-total secrecy, hint at a bitter struggle.

According to one such report, Fidel followers last year denounced corruption by a close Raúl ally, Civil Aviation Institute President Rogelio Acevedo. In retaliation, Raúl’s allies denounced corruption by a long-time Fidel prótegé, Chilean businessman Max Marambio.

“Fidel knows that if Raúl wins he will not only consolidate his government but also open the door to the danger that all of his legacy will be swept away,” Fuentes wrote.

Fidel’s obstructions of his brother’s rule is dangerous, Fuentes added in the article, titled “The next coup d’etat.”

“For a lot less than that,” he wrote, “they both have sent a lot of people before…READ MORE HERE.

Fidel gives "the look" to his brother Raul Castro Ruz.

With Fidel Castro’s step back into the public limelight as he turns 84, is there tension at the top — or is Raul Castro firmly in control? A special report published by The Miami Herald.