August 5, 2006

Castro to be back in weeks, Cuba VP says

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro,
described by sources as well enough to be eating and sitting
up, could return to power in several weeks, Cuba's vice
president said on Saturday.

Vice President Carlos Lage denied a newspaper report that
the 79-year-old former guerrilla fighter who had surgery for
internal bleeding and temporarily turned over power to brother
Raul on Monday, is suffering from stomach cancer and has an
unfavorable prognosis.

"Fidel has had to confront an operation and is recovering
favorably. He does not have cancer," Lage told reporters during
an official visit to Bolivia.

He said the long-time Communist leader, who has not been
seen in public since July 26, could reassume power from Raul
"in several weeks."

Lage's comments were the latest assurances by Cuban
officials and allies that Castro had not lost his grip on the
communist government he has run since sweeping into power in a
1959 revolution.

In Havana, where residents were stunned at Monday's
announcement that the "Comandante" had provisionally given
power to Raul Castro, 75, sources who had spoken to government
officials said Fidel Castro was doing well for a man his age.

"I was told Fidel is doing better, he has eaten something
and sat up," one source told Reuters, asking not to be

Mid-level Communist Party officials were informed that
Castro was out of intensive care and beginning to recover, a
party source said in Santiago, Cuba's second largest city.

Bolivian President Evo Morales, in a speech to lawmakers in
Sucre, Bolivia, with Lage in attendance, said Castro already
"has recovered" from the operation.

"What is now lacking is that he return to running the
country," said Morales, a Castro ally.

The statements followed a report by one of Brazil's top
newspapers, Folha de S. Paulo, that Cuban officials told
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and members of
the ruling Workers' Party that Castro had a malignant stomach
tumor and his condition was worse than has been publicly

A Brazilian government spokesman said the report was
incorrect, but the reporter stood by the story.

"The information was obtained by Folha from two direct
aides to President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva," the reporter who
wrote the story said in a letter to his newspaper to be
published on Sunday. An extract was given to Reuters.

The fact that neither of the Castro brothers has surfaced
since the handover of power has triggered uncertainty about
Cuba's future and speculation that Fidel Castro's 47-year rule
could be drawing to a close.

Dr. Howard Manten, a gastroenterologist and associate
professor at the University of Miami School of Medicine, said

stomach cancer symptoms included internal bleeding, but
there were many other possible causes for bleeding, including
ulcers or gastritis.

Typically, patients who have had intestinal surgery are in
the hospital for a week and walking in two weeks, although
Castro's age works against him, Manten said.

The prognosis for stomach cancer patients "is not great in
terms of long-term survival," he added.

On Saturday, Daniel Ortega, the former leftist president of
Nicaragua, arrived in Cuba to show his support for the Castro
brothers, officials said.

Ortega's Sandinista government was backed by Cuba in the
1980s and he is running for election again in November.

"That's what a friend is for, to be there in good times and
difficult times," said Jacinto Suarez, a member of the
Sandinista Party's national leadership.

(Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Havana, Ricardo
Amaral in Brasilia and by Todd Benson in Brazil)