August 6, 2006

Party reassures Cubans over Castro’s health

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Word filtered through the ranks of the
Cuban Communist Party and government that President Fidel
Castro was recovering from surgery, but his location and exact
condition remained a mystery on Sunday nearly a week after his
unprecedented handover of power.

Senior Cuban officials, seeking to allay suspicions the
79-year-old Castro had lost his grip on the island nation he
took over in a 1959 revolution, insisted in brief public
statements that he was recovering from surgery for internal
bleeding but said he may have to reduce his workload.

Government sources told Reuters that Castro, who has not
been seen in public since July 26, was well enough to eat and
sit up.

Brother Raul, 75, has not been seen in public since Fidel
gave him provisional power on Monday, triggering speculation
about who is in charge of the nation of 11 million people.

"Fidel is definitely out of intensive care and doing as
well as can be expected for his age, though no one knows
exactly where he is, what he has and if he will ever resume all
his activities," a mid-level Havana party member told Reuters.

Many other sources throughout the Caribbean island said
they had heard the same.

"Everyone is breathing a little easier with the news,
though we all remain very concerned," a government official

One of the most celebrated Cubans of recent years, former
castaway Elian Gonzalez, sent a get-well card to my "dear
grandfather" wishing for his quick recovery, official Radio
Reloj reported.

Signed by the entire Gonzalez family, it wished that he
would have "many more" birthdays" after his 80th on August 13.

Elian, now aged 12, was the center of an impassioned
struggle between Castro and Cuban exiles in Miami after he was
shipwrecked then rescued off the Florida coast in 1999.


His Cuban-born father eventually took him back to Cuba
after a dramatic raid by U.S. agents removed him from the home
of relatives in Miami who had wanted to keep him there.

The saga counted as one of Castro's greatest propaganda
victories over the exiles.

The official media, which usually ignores the religious
significance of Sunday, also reported the Roman Catholic
Church, Afro-Cuban religious organizations, the Council of
Churches, the Jewish community and others had sent messages
wishing Castro a full and quick recovery.

On Saturday, Vice President Carlos Lage said Castro would
return to the presidency "in several weeks" and denied a
Brazilian newspaper report his surgery was for stomach cancer,
not gastrointestinal bleeding as announced.

"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.

Leading Brazilian newspaper Folha de S. Paulo reported on
Saturday that Cuban officials told Brazilian President Luiz
Inacio Lula da Silva his friend Castro had a malignant stomach
tumor and his condition was worse than had been disclosed.

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 Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva," reporter Kennedy
Alencar said in a letter to his newspaper published on Sunday.

In a telephone interview on a radio station in Miami, home
to 650,000 Cuban-Americans and the center of Castro opposition,
Cuban National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said Fidel
came through the "complicated" surgery so well that a few hours
afterwards "he was talking, he was making jokes."

"That's why I feel confident he will recover very soon," he

But, Alarcon said, Castro will have to slow down.