Friday, December 29, 2006

Regime slowly lifts veil over state of Castro's health

Regime slowly lifts veil over state of Castro's health
By Marc Frank in Havana
Published: December 29 2006 02:00 | Last updated: December 29 2006 02:00

The Spanish surgeon called to treat Fidel Castro this week has raised
new questions about the future government of Cuba with his statement
that the 80-year-old president is not terminally ill and might once more
step on to the podium in Havana to berate capitalist folly and
imperialist hegemony.

"He is in good condition. Within the confines of doctor-patient
privilege, I can say President Castro is not suffering from a malignant
condition," José Luis García Sabrido, head of surgery at Madrid's
Gregorio Maranon public hospital, told a news conference after returning
from Cuba. "He does not have cancer, he has a problem with his digestive

The doctor's comments appeared to signal that the communist authorities
were ready to slowly lift the veil on the ailments of the long-ruling
head of state.

Mr Castro has not been seen in public since hetook ill on July 26,
temporarily handing over power to his younger brother, Raúl Castro, 75,
the defence minister.

Dr García Sabrido said Mr Castro could govern Cuba again. "Yes, if his
recovery is complete, yes," the digestive system specialist said.

But most experts and an increasing number of Cubans doubt that Fidel
Castro will ever really govern again.

Raúl Castro has consolidated his position at the helm of government,
holding dozens of internal meetings where he has announced that his
style is more businesslike than his brother's and where he expects
reports to be presented in advance.

"Raúl is telling people he does not like to work at night because that
time is sacred for his family," one official said, asking not to be

"I doubt we would have gone through this delicate and dangerous
succession process only to reverse it next year," another functionary

Anecdotes abound of Raúl asking why, for example, young people close to
his brother, rather than the health ministry, are in charge of hospital
repairs, or abruptly ending a meeting with sugar ministry officials when
they did not have the paperwork to back up requests for funds.

In a series of public appearances last week he appeared very much in
charge, demanding more accountability and fewer excuses from
functionaries and focusing a parliament discussion on the three main
complaints of the public; housing, transportation and food.

"Raúl would not be acting like he is if Fidel was going to come back
like before," one Communist party insider said. "Fidel might be around
and contributing to strategic decisions, but Raúl will clearly be
running things."

Fidel's condition, and even his whereabouts, have been treated as a
state secret even as officials have insisted he does not have cancer and
would recover.

Throughout October the government released occasional photos and
videos,the last video being released on October 28 and showinga weakened
Mr Castro,leading to speculation that his health was deterio-rating.

"His condition is stable. He is recovering slowly but progressively," Dr
García Sabrido said, while admitting there had been "complications".

The US, along with many other governments, have speculated that Mr
Castro is dying of cancer, despite official denials.

While Dr García Sabrido denied that cancer wasthe problem, his comments
this week are sure to boost speculation among medical experts that the
Cuban leader could be suffering from a deterioration of his digestive

This could involve any number of ailments that are fairly common among
the aged, but these too couldbe serious enough to require major
emergency surgery and could be just as life-threatening.

Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2006

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