Monday, December 18, 2006

Castro to Recover but Not Return, Cubans Say

The New York Times

Published: December 18, 2006

Cuban officials told lawmakers from the United States House of Representatives visiting Havana yesterday that President Fidel Castro did not have cancer or any terminal illness and that he would be making a public appearance shortly, according to Rep. William Delahunt, one of the legislators.

But Mr. Delahunt, Democrat of Massachusetts, said he concluded from the delegation’s discussions with senior Cuban officials and diplomats that Mr. Castro would not return to running Cuba on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Delahunt said he understood that government administration had been definitively passed to Mr. Castro’s brother, Raúl. “The Cubans were emphatic, and I believe them, that Fidel does not have cancer, and that the illness he does have is not terminal,” Mr. Delahunt said in a telephone interview last night after he returned to Washington.

He said Cuban officials assured the delegation that Mr. Castro was planning to re-emerge shortly. Mr. Castro, 80, who has controlled Cuba since he took power after a revolution in 1959, has not been seen in public since July 26, and Cuba has guarded the details of his medical condition as a state secret. Cuban officials announced that he underwent intestinal surgery in late July. He did not appear at celebrations of his 80th birthday earlier this month, prompting a new rush of rumors that he had died.

If Mr. Castro re-appears, “this will not be Fidel sitting at his desk,” Mr. Delahunt said. “This will be Fidel Castro is alive and recovering.” He said he anticipated that if Mr. Castro did resume a political role, it would be setting broad policy. “The functioning of the government, that transition has already occurred,” he said.

The bipartisan delegation of 10 representatives, which Mr. Delahunt described as the largest Congressional delegation to visit Cuba during Mr. Castro’s rule, arrived Friday and spent 48 hours in Havana. It was led by Mr. Delahunt and Rep. Jeff Flake, Republican of Arizona, the leaders of the Cuba Working Group in the House.

The lawmakers met with the foreign minister, Felipe Pérez Roque, the National Assembly president, Ricardo Alarcón, and Yadira García, an economic minister, among others.

They did not have any contact with Mr. Castro or meet with Raúl Castro. The Communist Party newspaper reported Saturday that Fidel Castro had telephoned several Cuban lawmakers on Friday. He has also spoken recently to President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, Mr. Chávez has said.

The Cuban officials did not disclose what illness Mr. Castro had, but they insisted he was recovering, and said he had avoided public appearances to hasten his recuperation, Mr. Delahunt said. Mr. Castro passed his political authority to his brother before his surgery.

“It seems that the Cuban government may not be ready to say that a new era has begun,” Mr. Flake said when asked why Raúl Castro had not met with the lawmakers, The Associated Press reported from Havana.

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