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August 2006
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Castro’s allies say he’s recovering

Castro’s allies say he’s recovering

By ANITA SNOW, Associated Press Writer 1 hour, 38 minutes ago

Fidel Castro, who has wielded absolute power over Cuba and defied the
United States for nearly a half century, was recovering from intestinal
surgery Tuesday, his allies said, after temporarily turning over
authority to his brother Raul.

The Venezuelan government said Fidel Castro’s recovery was “advancing
positively” after surgery, citing information from the island’s
government without providing details. A leftist Argentine lawmaker said
Castro aides told him the surgery was successful and that Castro was
resting peacefully.

The surprise announcement that Castro had been operated on to repair a
“sharp intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding” stunned Cubans on the
island and in exile, and marked the first time that Castro, two weeks
away from 80th birthday, had relinquished power in 47 years of rule.

On this island 90 miles south of Florida, people went about their
business as normal on the streets of Havana early Tuesday, standing in
line for buses to school and work, and jogging along the city’s famous
Malecon seawall.

Some government work centers called workers to participate in outdoor
political gatherings later Tuesday to express their support for Fidel
Castro. Dozens of workers at one gathering waved small Cuban flags and
shouted: “Long live Fidel!”

“There is no one else like him,” said Osmar Fernandez, 27, drinking rum
at a cafe. “I want Fidel to live for 80 more years.”

Government opponents said the move gave them hope for eventual openings
in the island’s political and economic systems.

“It’s clear that this is the start of the transition,” activist Manuel
Cuesta Morua said. “This gives Cuba the opportunity to have a more
rational leadership because … the top leaders will be obligated to
consult each other (rather than be ruled by one man).”

The news came Monday night in a statement read on state television by
his secretary, Carlos Valenciaga. The message said Castro’s condition
was apparently due to stress from a heavy work schedule during recent
trips to Argentina and eastern Cuba. He did not appear on the broadcast.

Castro, who took control of Cuba in 1959, resisted repeated U.S.
attempts to oust him and survived communism’s demise elsewhere, also
said in the statement that he was temporarily handing over leadership of
the Communist Party to his younger brother.

Raul Castro, the defense minister who turned 75 in June, also did not
appear on television and made no statement on his own. For decades the
constitutional successor to his brother, Raul Castro has assumed a more
public profile in recent weeks.

Fidel Castro last appeared in public Wednesday as he marked the 53rd
anniversary of his July 26 barracks assault that launched the
revolution. The Cuban leader seemed thinner than usual and somewhat
weary during a pair of long speeches in eastern Cuba.

“The operation obligates me to undertake several weeks of rest,”
Castro’s letter read. Extreme stress “had provoked in me a sharp
intestinal crisis with sustained bleeding that obligated me to undergo a
complicated surgical procedure.”

The calm delivery of the announcement appeared to signal that there
would be an orderly succession should Fidel Castro become permanently

White House spokesman Peter Watkins said U.S. authorities were
monitoring the situation: “We can’t speculate on Castro’s health, but we
continue to work for the day of Cuba’s freedom.”

On Monday, before Castro’s illness was announced,
President Bush was in Miami and spoke of the island’s future.

“If Fidel Castro were to move on because of natural causes, we’ve got a
plan in place to help the people of Cuba understand there’s a better way
than the system in which they’ve been living under,” he told WAQI-AM
Radio Mambi, a Spanish-language radio station. “No one knows when Fidel
Castro will move on. In my judgment, that’s the work of the Almighty.”

Three weeks ago, a U.S. presidential commission called for an $80
million program to bolster non-governmental groups in Cuba for the
purpose of hastening an end to the country’s communist system.

It is official U.S. policy to “undermine” Cuba’s planned succession to
Raul Castro. At the time the commission report was released, Bush said,
“We are actively working for change in Cuba, not simply waiting for change.”

Castro has resisted U.S. demands for multiparty elections and an open
economy and has insisted his socialist system would long outlive him.

Cuban exiles celebrated in the streets of Miami, but Havana’s streets
were quiet overnight as Cubans awaited further word on Castro’s condition.

It was unknown when or where the surgery took place or where Castro was

The Venezuelan government said in a statement that it had “received with
satisfaction the information from Cuban authorities according to which
the recovery process of President Fidel Castro is advancing positively.”
The statement did not give specifics about Castro’s condition.

A leftist Argentine lawmaker, Miguel Bonasso, said he called Castro
aides Monday night and was told the surgery “was successful” and the
leader was resting.

Ongoing intestinal bleeding can be serious and potentially
life-threatening, said Dr. Stephen Hanauer, gastroenerology chief at the
University of Chicago hospitals. He said it was difficult to deduce the
cause of Castro’s bleeding without knowing what part of the digestive
tract was affected.

Ulcers are a common cause of bleeding in the stomach or upper intestine.
Stress used to be blamed but is no longer believed to be a cause of
ulcers, he said.

A condition called diverticulosis also can provoke bleeding in the lower
intestine, especially in people over age 60, Hanauer said. The condition
involves weakened spots in the intestinal lining that form pouches,
which can become inflamed and provoke bleeding.

Fidel Castro seemed optimistic of recovery, asking that celebrations
scheduled for his 80th birthday on Aug. 13 be postponed until Dec. 2,
the 50th anniversary of Cuba’s Revolutionary Armed Forces.

With Havana’s streets calm, an electronic news ticker at the U.S.
diplomatic mission provided the only clue that something dramatic had
occurred inside Cuba’s government: “All Cubans, including those under
the dictatorship, can count on our help and support. We respect the
wishes of all Cubans.”

With Havana’s streets calm, the noontime news on Cuban state television
led with Castro’s letter, followed by interviews with Cubans expressing
confidence in his recovery. One item showed Bolivians rallying for
Castro at the Cuban Embassy in La Paz.

The view from the United States in Cuba was limited to the electronic
news ticker at the U.S. diplomatic mission, which read: “All Cubans,
including those under the dictatorship, can count on our help and
support. We respect the wishes of all Cubans.”

Waiters at a popular cafe in Old Havana were momentarily stunned by the
news that Castro was ailing but quickly returned to work.

“He’ll get better, without a doubt,” said Agustin Lopez, 40. “There are
really good doctors here, and he’s extremely strong.”

But Martha Beatriz Roque, a leading Cuban government opponent in Havana,
said she believed Castro must be gravely ill to have stepped aside —
even temporarily.

“No one knows if he’ll even be alive Dec. 2 when he’s supposed to
celebrate his birthday,” she said.

She added that opposition members worried they could be targeted for
repression during a government change — especially if authorities fear
civil unrest.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Castro’s strongest international ally,
expressed distress during a visit to Vietnam. He said he called the
Cuban leader’s office after hearing the news.

“We wish President Fidel Castro will recover rapidly. Viva Fidel Castro!”

Chinese President
Hu Jintao also sent a message of good wishes to Castro, the official
Xinhua News Agency said.

Across the Florida straits in Miami, exiles waved Cuban flags on Little
Havana’s Calle Ocho, shouting “Cuba! Cuba! Cuba!” as drivers honked
their horns. Over nearly five decades, hundreds of thousands of Cubans
have fled Castro’s rule, many of them settling in Miami.

Castro has been in power since the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the armed
revolution that drove out dictator Fulgencio Batista. He has been the
world’s longest-ruling head of government and his ironclad rule has
ensured Cuba’s place among the world’s five remaining communist
countries, along with China, Vietnam, Laos and
North Korea.

The son of a prosperous plantation owner, Castro’s official birthday is
Aug. 13, 1926, although some say he was born a year later.

Talk of Castro’s mortality was taboo until June 23, 2001, when he
fainted during a speech in the sun. Although Castro quickly recovered,
many Cubans understood for the first time that their leader would
eventually die.

Castro shattered a kneecap and broke an arm when he fell after a speech
on Oct. 20, 2004, but laughed off rumors about his health, most recently
a 2005 report he had Parkinson’s disease.

But the Cuban president also said he would not insist on remaining in
power if he ever became too sick to lead: “I’ll call the (Communist)
Party and tell them I don’t feel I’m in condition … that please,
someone take over the command.”


Associated Press reporters Vanessa Arrington in Havana; Laura
Wides-Munoz in Miami; Tran Van Minh in Hanoi, Vietnam; and Medical
Writer Lindsey Tanner in Chicago contributed to this report.

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