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Castro Says He's Slowly Recovering

The Cuban leader notes his convalescence will be a `lengthy one,' but he plans to greet foreign leaders at a summit in Havana next week.

September 06, 2006|Carol J. Williams | Times Staff Writer

MIAMI — A statement from Cuban President Fidel Castro published Tuesday said that the worst of his unspecified illness was behind him and that he was in good enough shape to receive foreign leaders next week at a Havana summit for developing nations.

The report that the 80-year-old revolutionary's health is improving, like previous assurances and pictures released by the Cuban leadership since Castro underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding July 31, raised as many questions as it answered.

In a statement published in Communist Party newspapers and read on the radio, Castro said he was "a disciplined patient" who followed his doctors' orders to rest. He said he had almost finished revising a book during his convalescence.

Despite declaring himself fit enough to receive foreign leaders -- an apparent reference to the Sept. 11-16 summit of nonaligned movement nations in Havana -- he warned Cubans not to expect photos or film of the meetings.

"I can affirm to you that the most critical moment is behind us. I am now recovering at a satisfactory rate," Castro said in the statement, signed and dated Monday.

He said that his recovery would be "a lengthy one," but that the country was running fine and "nobody should be worried."

Seven photos of the ailing leader in pajamas accompanied the statement; they also sent mixed signals about his health. Castro's eyes appear sunken, his beard wispy and gray, and his lanky frame withered from what he acknowledged was a loss of 41 pounds after his operation.

Castro deemed his condition a state secret in a message to the Cuban public a day after his surgery.

Intelligence sources and veteran Cuba watchers speculate that he has colon cancer, but they acknowledge that no one outside Castro's inner circle knows the details of his illness.

Analysts debate whether Castro will retake the helm of his country or let his 75-year-old brother, Raul, remain as head of state, government chief and Communist Party leader.

The younger Castro has not been seen or heard from much in the five weeks since he was handed temporary powers.

His only public appearance was to meet Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez at the airport on the first of three visits the fellow leftist leader has made to the ailing Castro.

The acting leader's only official decision -- at least the only one made public -- was the appointment of a reputed enemy, 74-year-old Ramiro Valdez, as minister of computers and communications.

The seemingly perplexing appointment followed government warnings to Cubans about clandestinely installing satellite dishes on their rooftops to watch unauthorized foreign broadcasts.

The edict prompted speculation that Valdez, a former interior minister and ideological hard-liner, was brought in to enforce a campaign to keep Cubans from seeing outside accounts of the political transition that could unfold in their country.

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carol.williams@latimes.com

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