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Unease in Cuba as Castro has surgery

Unease in Cuba as Castro has surgery
The Associated Press

Published: August 1, 2006
HAVANA An operation forced Fidel Castro to temporarily cede power to his
brother for the first time in 47 years, abruptly ushering in a period of
uncertainty in Cuba as the severity of his illness remained unknown.

Castro, less than two weeks from his 80th birthday, did not appear on
the live television broadcast Monday night in which his secretary read a
letter from the Cuban leader. Castro’s message said he underwent surgery
for gastrointestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from a heavy
travel and work schedule related to recent trips to Argentina and
eastern Cuba.

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

Raúl Castro, Cuba’s 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, Raúl 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 he become permanently incapacitated.

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
recovering.

Ongoing intestinal bleeding can be serious and potentially
life-threatening, said Dr. Stephen Hanauer, gastroenterology 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,
while a condition called diverticulosis also can provoke bleeding in the
lower intestine, especially in people over age 60, Hanauer said. He said
this condition involves weakened spots in the intestinal lining that
form pouches, which can become inflamed and provoke bleeding.

Castro seemed optimistic of recovery, asking that celebrations scheduled
for his 80th birthday 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.”

Waiters at a popular café in Old Havana were momentarily stunned by the
news, but quickly returned to work.

“He’ll get better, without a doubt,” said Agustin López, 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 that 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 by telephone. She said opposition
members worried that they could be targets of repression during a
government change – especially if the authorities fear civil unrest.

A White House spokesman, Peter Watkins, said the 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.”

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Castro’s strongest international
ally, was the first foreign leader to react to the news, expressing his
distress during a visit to Vietnam. He said he called the Cuban leader’s
office after hearing the news.

“Waking up this morning and receiving that news, you may see what
feeling one would have toward a good friend,” Chávez said Tuesday
morning. “When there is such an announcement, it’s worrisome.”

“We wish President Fidel Castro will recover rapidly,” Chávez said.
“Viva Fidel Castro.”

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 the 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.

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

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

HAVANA An operation forced Fidel Castro to temporarily cede power to his
brother for the first time in 47 years, abruptly ushering in a period of
uncertainty in Cuba as the severity of his illness remained unknown.

Castro, less than two weeks from his 80th birthday, did not appear on
the live television broadcast Monday night in which his secretary read a
letter from the Cuban leader. Castro’s message said he underwent surgery
for gastrointestinal bleeding, apparently due to stress from a heavy
travel and work schedule related to recent trips to Argentina and
eastern Cuba.

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

Raúl Castro, Cuba’s 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, Raúl 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 prov
oked 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 he become permanently incapacitated.

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
recovering.

Ongoing intestinal bleeding can be serious and potentially
life-threatening, said Dr. Stephen Hanauer, gastroenterology 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,
while a condition called diverticulosis also can provoke bleeding in the
lower intestine, especially in people over age 60, Hanauer said. He said
this condition involves weakened spots in the intestinal lining that
form pouches, which can become inflamed and provoke bleeding.

Castro seemed optimistic of recovery, asking that celebrations scheduled
for his 80th birthday 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.”

Waiters at a popular café in Old Havana were momentarily stunned by the
news, but quickly returned to work.

“He’ll get better, without a doubt,” said Agustin López, 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 that 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 by telephone. She said opposition
members worried that they could be targets of repression during a
government change – especially if the authorities fear civil unrest.

A White House spokesman, Peter Watkins, said the 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.”

President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Castro’s strongest international
ally, was the first foreign leader to react to the news, expressing his
distress during a visit to Vietnam. He said he called the Cuban leader’s
office after hearing the news.

“Waking up this morning and receiving that news, you may see what
feeling one would have toward a good friend,” Chávez said Tuesday
morning. “When there is such an announcement, it’s worrisome.”

“We wish President Fidel Castro will recover rapidly,” Chávez said.
“Viva Fidel Castro.”

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 the 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.

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

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

http://www.iht.com/articles/2006/08/01/news/castro.php

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