Wed Aug 9, 7:18 PM ET
By Isabel Sanchez
HAVANA (AFP) - Cuba justified the dearth of news on ailing President
Fidel Castro's health, arguing that the country faces a clear and imminent threat from the United States.
Castro, who has presided over the island's communist government for almost 48 years, temporarily handed over his duties to his brother Raul, the defense chief, on July 31. Neither Castro has appeared in public since.
Due to "concrete threats" from Washington, "the information that we give about this whole situation has to be careful, limited to inform what is indispensable," National Assembly speaker Ricardo Alarcon said in an interview with Radio Rebelde.
Sources close to Fidel Castro's circle, however, said that the surgery was believed to have been performed early July 27, and that a few days later Castro was ingesting light food, and that now he reads documents.
Alarcon justified limited disclosure, referring to the 10-year-old US Helms-Burton law that establishes the US goal "to put an end to the revolutionary government," as well as the 2004 report by the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba detailing US programs aimed at encouraging democracy in Cuba.
US President George W. Bush ratified the plan on July 10 "and even said that to carry it out they were contemplating secret measures," Alarcon said.
"What more do you need to realize that we are really facing a very clear, very direct threat?" Alarcon asked.
Even though US forces may be bogged down in
Iraq, Cuba "cannot take lightly the explicit threat of the government of a powerful country ... that is being governed by a group of bandits," he said.
US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and White House spokesman Tony Snow have dismissed talk of any US invasion of Cuba, and Bush has encouraged Cubans to carry out political change.
Cuban exiles in southern Florida however have called for an anti-communist uprising on the island.
Cuban authorities have gone all out over the past few days to convince the island's citizens that Castro is well on his way to recovery and that the ruling Communist Party is in top shape.
They have said Castro would be back on the job within months, or possibly weeks, but have shed no light on the exact condition of the bearded leader, who turns 80 on Sunday.
Cuban authorities announced Wednesday they were intensifying police sweeps to catch satellite television signal pirates, with penalties that include heavy fines and up to three years imprisonment.
Piracy via TV satellite dishes "not only breaks national and international laws, but in the current conditions are the breeding grounds for those who pretend to carry out goals in the Bush administration's plan to defeat the Cuban revolution," the government-run Granma newspaper said.
The Granma announcement followed the launch a week ago of daily broadcasts by US government-funded TV Marti, which Cuba considers subversive propaganda.
The four hours of daily US programming is being broadcast towards the island from a C-130 military airplane.
Cuban officials had managed to block TV Marti transmissions since it went on the air in 1991.
Tuesday in Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a strong Castro supporter, said that he had "encouraging" news about Castro's recovery, adding that the Cuban leader told him recently that even if he dies the revolution will go on.
"Fidel told me: I could die and Cuba will continue its path, it has a team, a revolution, a people prepared for anything," Chavez said in a speech, referring to a recent meeting with Castro in Argentina.