International Herald Tribune
The Associated Press
Published: 2006-12-15 20:00:01
CARACAS, Venezuela: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez denied Friday that Fidel Castro has cancer and said the ailing Cuban leader is eating cautiously and feels well enough to joke.
Castro's medical condition is being kept a state secret, and Cuban officials insisted he is recovering. But U.S. officials say they believe he suffers from some kind of inoperable cancer and will not live through the end of 2007.
"Fidel does not have cancer. I'm very well-informed ... he has instructed them to inform me of all the details of what is happening," Chavez said during a speech in Caracas.
Castro, 80, has not been seen publicly since July, when he temporarily handed power over to his younger brother Raul so he could recover from intestinal surgery.
Chavez reiterated previous comments that the recuperation is going slowly and that Castro is fighting "a great battle" for his health after suffering what he described as a "serious illness."
"Nobody knows when Fidel is going to die," Chavez said.
"We are very optimist. Yesterday, I found him to be in a very good mood, well enough to compare my parrots to (U.S. President George) Bush," Chavez continued, describing how Castro had told him the pet birds were more talkative than their "northern neighbor."
Chavez said Castro "is eating little by little" and that he planned to send him one of his favorite treats, Venezuelan chocolate.
Chavez did not give any further details on Castro's health, but said they had spoken twice on Thursday and discussed a series of new projects between Venezuela and Cuba, including plans to jointly explore for oil.
Chavez said Castro's government would soon be giving a license to Venezuela's state oil company allowing it to explore for oil in Cuban waters in the Gulf of Mexico.
He added that Cuba's Cupet would help explore for oil in Venezuela's oil-rich Orinoco River region, joining a host of other state oil companies from friendly allies like Iran, China, Russia and Spain.
Chavez said he and Castro discussed other projects, including a wood company, a pharmaceutical factory and a company to exploit Cuban nickel and Venezuela iron.
"We have so many things to thank Fidel for," said Chavez, describing how Castro had surprised him with a phone call in the afternoon before he called him back later in the evening to discuss the left-leaning trade bloc their two countries founded, known as ALBA.
"ALBA is going to grow," Chavez continued, saying that Nicaraguan President-elect Daniel Ortega, leader of the country's leftist Sandinista party, told him last weekend that Nicaragua planned to join the bloc comprising Cuba, Venezuela and Bolivia.
ALBA rejects U.S.-backed free trade and promises a socialist version of regional commerce and cooperation.