Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Castro recovers free of workload

Tue 22 Aug 2006

Castro recovers free of workload

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro is relaxing for the first time in his life as he recovers from intestinal surgery free of his excessive workload, his older brother, Ramon Castro, said on Tuesday.

Castro handed over the reins of power to his younger sibling Raul Castro on July 31 after undergoing emergency surgery to stop intestinal bleeding attributed by the Cuban authorities to his workaholic pace.

"He is better. The problem was resolved quickly," Ramon Castro told Reuters. "He is relaxed, resting."

Ramon Castro, the farmer in the family who has kept out of politics, said Fidel Castro was enjoying some downtime since ceding the presidency provisionally to his younger brother.

"He is happy because he is free. For the first time in his life he has handed over the job to Raul," Ramon Castro said.

Castro's illness has forced him to abandon his legendary pace of activity that included lengthy speeches, all-night meetings and the overseeing of most aspects of Cuban government and society.

Details of Castro's illness and the operation he underwent are a closely guarded state secret and rumours had been rife he might even have died until Cuba released photographs and video of Castro around his 80th birthday on August 13.

The images showed the bedridden leader alert and joking with his main ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

In his first public statement published on Friday, Raul Castro said the country was absolutely calm, although he added that the armed forces and tens of thousands of reservists were mobilised in the crucial hours after the hand-over of power was announced to face the threat of a U.S. invasion.

Cuba watchers say the transfer of power was done smoothly but it is not certain whether Fidel Castro will be able to resume full government functions in one of the world's last communist countries.


Asked whether his brother would attend the summit of the Nonaligned Movement that Cuba will host from September 11 to 16, Ramon Castro, who will be 82 in October, said, "Sure, he is already feeling like a lion."

Ramon Castro spoke after lunching with Florida cattleman John Parke Wright IV, who last year shipped breeding cattle to Cuba under an exception granted for agriculture in the U.S. embargo imposed on Cuba shortly after Castro's 1959 revolution.

The Naples, Florida-based businessman whose family sold cattle to Cuba from the 1850s until the U.S. trade ban, said relations between U.S. farmers and Cuba "are doing great" but would benefit if the embargo was lifted fully.

Raul Castro, 75, said on Friday that Cuba was prepared to discuss improved relations with the United States if Washington agreed not to interfere in the island.

The administration of President George W. Bush, which has labelled the hand-over of power from one Castro brother to another as an unacceptable "dynastic succession," has tightened enforcement of the sanctions in recent years and stepped up pressure for a transition to multiparty democracy.

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