Monday, August 07, 2006

Cuba: Castro to return in a few weeks


A man rides his bicycle next to a billboard showing an image of Cuban leader Fidel Castro in San Cristobal, Pinar del Rio province, Cuba, Sunday, Aug. 6, 2006. Cubans gathered early Sunday to answer the government call to reaffirm their commitment to Castro and the revolution while authorities said that the Cuban leader was steadily improving from the major surgery that prompted him to temporarily cede power to his brother Raul on Monday.
(AP Photo/Javier Galeano)

ABC News

August 7, 2006

Cuban Vice President Says Ailing Leader Fidel Castro Will Return to Work in a Few Weeks

By ANITA SNOW

HAVANA Aug 6, 2006 (AP)— Cuba's vice president said Sunday Fidel Castro would return to work in a few weeks after intestinal surgery that forced him to hand over power temporarily to his younger brother.

Venezuela's president said Castro was out of bed and talking following his surgery as messages wishing the Cuban leader a quick recovery poured in from Latin America's leading leftists and Elian Gonzalez.

Vice President Carlos Lage, in Bolivia to attend the country's constitutional assembly, was asked by reporters when Castro would be back at work.

"In a few weeks," he replied.

Cuban officials have provided no details and released no pictures of Castro since his surgery was announced last Monday fueling speculation around the world about his condition. His brother Raul Castro, the defense minister, also has not been seen in public since the announcement.

"How are you, Fidel?" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said during his weekly TV and radio program, suggesting he believed the Cuban leader was watching. "We have reliable information of your quick and notable recuperation."

"Fidel Castro, a hug for you, friend and comrade, and I know you are getting better," Chavez said.

Talking by phone with Bolivian President Evo Morales later during the program, Chavez said that Castro was bouncing back quickly.

"This morning I learned that he's very well, that he is already getting out of bed, he's talking more than he should because he talks a lot, you know. He has sent us greetings," Chavez said.

Morales said he was glad to learn of Castro's recovery, and "what's left is for him to be incorporated into the battle of his country" again. Saying Castro was like an "older brother," Morales added, "We hope to see our friend Fidel soon."

Before Castro fell ill, Morales had promised to travel to Havana for Castro's 80th birthday on Aug. 13 and bring him a cake made from the flour of coca leaves.

Former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrived in Havana from Nicaragua late Saturday and said: "I am sure that we will soon have Fidel resuming his functions and leading his people."

Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy at the center of a dramatic international custody battle six years ago between his relatives in Miami, Fla. and his father in Cuba, joined the list of people wishing Castro a swift recovery.

"We send you this letter to let you know that we are worried about your health," Elian Gonzalez, now 12, wrote to Castro along with his half-siblings and cousins. The letter was published Sunday in the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.

Morales, a leftist elected in December as Bolivia's first Indian president, said his government would send a high-level mission to Havana in the coming days, according to his spokesman Alex Contreras.

In a message to Castro on Tuesday, Morales referred to the Cuban leader as his "friend and brother" and wished him a speedy recovery "to continue in the trenches in the anti-imperialist struggle."

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage on Saturday denied reports that Castro had stomach cancer and said the Cuban leader has "been made well by the operation and is recuperating favorably."

In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the United States wants to help Cubans prepare for democracy but is not contemplating an invasion of the island in the wake of Castro's illness.

"The notion that somehow the United States is going to invade Cuba, because there are troubles in Cuba, is simply far-fetched," Rice told NBC television. "The United States wants to be a partner and a friend to the Cuban people as they move through this period of difficulty and as they move ahead. But what Cuba should not have is the replacement of one dictator by another."

[JG comment: Did a U.S. Secretary of State ever call Fulgencio Batista a dictator? We all know the answer to that question.]

Cuban authorities have beefed up security by mobilizing citizen defense militias, increasing street patrols, and ordering decommissioned military officers to check in at posts daily.

Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the island's top churchman, called on parishioners Sunday to pray for Castro's health, peace on the island, and fraternity among all Cubans, both here and abroad.

"We pray for the fatherland, for Cuba, and those who are leading it," Ortega told reporters in brief comments after his regular Sunday Mass at the cathedral in Old Havana.

Outside another church, a group of political prisoners' wives known as the Ladies in White held their weekly silent march after Sunday Mass without interruption by authorities.

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