Saturday, December 16, 2006

Ailing Castro telephones Cuba's provincial assembly presidents

Photo: REUTERS/Claudia Daut


The Associated Press
Published: December 16, 2006

HAVANA: Fidel Castro telephoned a meeting of provincial legislative leaders who reacted with jubilant applause to the call from their ailing leader, Cuba's Communist Party newspaper said Saturday.

Castro's call Friday to the assembly leaders preparing for an upcoming national parliament session, and another to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez the same day, constituted the first news about the convalescing 80-year-old Cuban leader in 11 days.

The news about the calls appeared to be aimed at knocking down rampant rumors circulating outside the island about Castro's health more than four months after he was last seen in public.

Even if Castro is not as sick as his enemies speculate, his prolonged absence from public life has raised questions about whether he will ever return to power.

Vice President Carlos Lage and National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon were presiding over the Friday meeting of provincial assembly presidents when Castro called, Granma newspaper reported. The full National Assembly will hold a regular session Dec. 22 to vote on the island's budget and other matters.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said in Caracas on Friday that Castro, a close friend and political ally, called him to congratulate him on his re-election victory earlier this month.

The last news about Castro was issued on Dec. 5 when Granma published a typed letter signed by Castro congratulating Chavez on his electoral win.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 26, five days before he announced that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was temporarily ceding his powers to his 75-year-old brother Defense Minister Raul Castro.

The government has occasionally released photographs and videos of Castro since then. He looked thin and frail in the last videos, released in late October.

Castro's medical condition is a state secret. Cuban officials insist he is recovering, but U.S. officials say they believe he suffers from some kind of inoperable cancer and won't live through the end of 2007.

Some U.S. doctors have speculated he could have diverticulosis, a condition relatively common among older people that is caused when weak spots form along the colon and intersect with an artery.

Many Castro loyalists were deeply disappointed that he did not appear earlier this month during postponed birthday celebrations attended by more than 1,300 foreign admirers, or at a Dec. 2 military parade marking the 50th anniversary of Cuba's Revolutionary Armed Forces.

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