Sat Aug 5, 2006 12:58pm ET
By Marc Frank
HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro is recovering satisfactorily from stomach surgery, the country's vice president said on Saturday, while government sources said he had started to eat and sat up in bed.
Brazilian officials denied a newspaper report they had been told by Cuban authorities the veteran revolutionary had a malignant stomach tumor and may never be able to return fully to power.
Vice President Carlos Lage, speaking on a trip to Bolivia, was the third Cuban official in the past two days to reassure the Caribbean island that the man who has ruled it for 47 years was on the mend from surgery for internal bleeding.
But he gave no further details in the report by the Cuban state news agency Prensa Latina.
In Havana, where residents were stunned at Monday's announcement that the "Comandante" had temporarily ceded power to his younger brother, Raul Castro, sources who had spoken to government officials said that while he may not be out of the woods, Fidel Castro was doing well for a man of 79.
"I was told Fidel is doing better, he has eaten something and sat up," one source told Reuters, asking not to be identified.
Neither of the Castro brothers has been seen since the handover of power, triggering uncertainty about Cuba's future and speculation that Fidel's rule could be drawing to a close.
In densely populated and crumbling Central Havana, some residents set out for the beach to escape the heat on Saturday, the anniversary of riots in 1994, the worst outburst of civic violence communist Cuba has seen.
The streets were calm, but plainclothes policemen stepped up their vigilance, ready for any trouble.
The riots led Castro to open the doors to migration, and more than 35,000 Cubans fled to the sea in precarious crafts and rubber tires.
BRAZIL DENIES TUMOR REPORT
In Brazil, the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper reported that Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and members of the ruling Workers' Party had been told by Cuban officials that Castro had a malignant stomach tumor, and his condition was worse than has been publicly admitted.
A Brazilian government spokesman said there was no basis to the report.
Cuba's most popular musicians, meanwhile, wished the ailing Castro a quick recovery amid speculation that his closest ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was planning a weekend visit.
"It is a delicate moment ... I trust in our Armed Forces and our people," said Juan Formell, leader of Cuba's most popular salsa band, Los Van Van, in a "get well" note published by the ruling Communist Party newspaper, Granma.
Other messages of support for Castro and his government came from singers Pablo Milanes and Silvio Rodriguez.
In Caracas, a government source said Chavez had canceled a trip to Bolivia. If he flew to Cuba to see Castro, it could indicate the Cuban leader was lucid and in a condition to receive visitors.
The populist Venezuelan leader has helped keep Cuba's government afloat since the collapse of its former benefactor the Soviet Union through cheap oil and billion-dollar payments for Cuban doctors to work in Venezuelan slums.
U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, in a message beamed to Cuba on Friday night, told the island's residents that "much is changing there" and now was the time to push for democracy.
But Cuba's minister of culture, Abel Prieto, told reporters at a Havana event Rice's message, which followed a similar statement by President George W. Bush, would fall on deaf ears. "Nobody in Cuba is going to listen to a message that comes from a functionary of a foreign government. That has no value for Cubans," he said.
(Additional reporting by Anthony Boadle in Havana and Ricardo Amaral in Brasilia)