If you haven’t been following Fidel Castro’s odd post-presidency, you might have been surprised to see the former Cuban leader wearing a blue Adidas tracksuit during his meeting with Pope Francis on Sunday. You shouldn’t be. Since his retirement, comfy athletic-wear has replaced military fatigues as the aging revolutionary’s signature look.
He was first shown wearing the outfit while still president, after recovering from surgery in 2006. Since retiring in 2008, he has occasionally slipped back into his old uniform for major public events, but by and large, has stuck to the sporty grandpa look during his rare public appearances. It would have been much more surprising if the atheist Castro had put on a suit and tie for his meeting with the visiting pontiff. After all, Castro has worn his tracksuits, usually over button-down shirts, to meet with visiting dignitaries including, Francis’s predecessor, Benedict XVI, Russia’s Vladimir Putin, China’s Xi Jinping, Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff, France’s Francois Hollande, and many others. Castro’s protégé Hugo Chavez even got into the act, wearing a Venezuelan-flag patterned tracksuit of his own to a meeting with his hero in 2011.
Castro has a collection that includes Nike, Puma, Fila and Reebok, but Adidas seems to be his favorite. A representative for the German sportswear manufacturer told the New York Times in 2006 that the company views Castro’s endorsement as “not a positive, not a negative.”
So why does Castro dress like he’s on his way to a shuffleboard engagement when world leaders come to pay a visit? There are a few possible explanations. The Marxist ex-leader may view business-wear as a bit too bourgeois; he rarely wore suits when he was in office with his drab olive fatigues symbolizing the continuing revolutionary struggle.
It may be something of a power play, making clear to foreign heads of state, many of whom were young children when he took power, that he feels no obligation to get dolled up for them when they come to pay their respects.
It may also be a sign of respect to his little brother Raul, the current president. When Fidel retired, many wondered if he would continue to exercise power behind the scenes. The outfits send a signal that he is very much retired. (Raul also keeps it pretty casual by world leader standards, but he did put on a suit and tie to greet the pope.)
Or maybe Fidel just likes to stay comfortable.