August 6, 2006

Castro out of bed, but questions linger

By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro is said to be
out of bed and talking as he recovers from surgery that has
raised questions about his future and that of the island nation
he has ruled for 47 years.

Cuban officials and allies kept up a steady stream of
assurances on Sunday that the communist leader is on the mend
from stomach surgery and soon will retake power he relinquished
to brother Raul on Monday.

But neither of the septuagenarian Castro brothers has made
a public appearance, and one Cuban leader suggested that Fidel,
whose 80th birthday is August 13, may not return as the robust
"comandante" he once was.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close Castro friend and
ally, said during a televised conversation with Bolivian
President Evo Morales that Fidel was now able to leave his bed
and hold conversations.

"This morning I learned that he's doing well, that he's
already standing up out of bed, he's talking -- more than he
should, because he talks a lot," said Chavez, who has become
the most visible face of a group of increasingly influential
leftist Latin American leaders.

During an official visit to Bolivia on Sunday, Cuban Vice
President Carlos Lage told Reuters the news from Havana
continues to be good.

"The news we have is that he continues progressing well. It
will be a number of weeks, but he is going to recover."

The Cuban government has not disclosed Castro's location or
the exact nature of his illness on grounds that it is a state
secret because of a possible threat from the giant foe 90 miles

to the north, the United States of America.

The government said he had surgery for gastrointestinal
bleeding brought on by overwork and stress and has denied a
report he suffers from stomach cancer.

Cuban officials have suggested the United States could take
advantage of Castro's moment of weakness to launch an invasion
it has long desired.


Even though both President George W. Bush and Secretary of
State Condoleezza urged Cubans this week to use this time of
flux to push for democracy, Rice insisted on Sunday an invasion
was not in the works.

"I want to lay one thing to rest," she said on NBC's "Meet
the Press." "The notion that somehow the United States is going
to invade Cuba, because there are troubles in Cuba, is simply
far-fetched. And it's simply not true."

"The United States wants to be a partner and a friend for
the Cuban people as they move through this period of
difficulty," Rice said.

Amid all the pronouncements about an improving Fidel, Cuban
National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon admitted in a U.S.
radio interview on Saturday that the aging, ailing Castro may
not come back as the omnipresent daily force he once was.

He said the Cuban government wants to keep Castro in good
health, which would require that he face "abandoning the
day-to-day work to which he was so accustomed for many years."

While Cuba has remained calm the past week, there were
signs of concern.

At Mass at Havana's colonial-era cathedral, Cardinal Jaime
Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, asked for prayers for Castro
and asked God for guidance for those running the country "in
this moment of such importance."

Young Elian Gonzalez, who became 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, sent a get-well card to "my dear grandfather" wishing for
a quick recovery, Cuban radio reported.

Gonzalez, now 12, signed the card with little kisses and
the hope that Castro has "many more" birthday.

At a crowded beach west of Havana, a medical student named
Angelica said her only hope was for stability.

"I hope everything stays the same now that his brother Raul
is running the country," she said. "Especially the free health
care and education."

The Cuban government says the revolution will continue even
when Castro departs, under the leadership of 75-year-old Raul,
who is seen as an efficient manager without Castro's charisma.

"The idea that the revolution will depend on the life of
any (one) of us is stupid," Alarcon said in his radio
interview. "It will not be eliminated just like that."

Cuba watchers see several possible scenarios, from an East
European-style collapse, to reforms along the Chinese-style, to
power struggles within the armed forces and party.

On the other side of the Florida Straits in Miami's Little
Havana, members of the large Cuban-American community prayed
that whatever the future holds for their lost homeland, it does
not include Fidel Castro.

"He has been such a criminal, killing people, putting
people in prison. The church asks us to pray even for our
enemies. But I don't do it," said Eugene Brito, an usher at the
Saints Peter and Paul Catholic Church.

"We pray for liberty for Cuba," said Brito, 78, who fled
the Castro government and came to the United States in 1961.

(Additional reporting by Esteban Israel in Havana, Brian
Ellsworth in Caracas, Gabriela Donoso in Sucre and Jim Loney in