Cuba's Fidel Castro says feeling stronger in live phone call to
Venezuelan radio program
CARACAS, Venezuela -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro called into Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez's radio talk show, saying he felt "more energetic"
and was enjoying his convalescence in his first live comments since
falling ill seven months ago.
"I'm gaining ground. I feel more energetic, stronger and have more time
to study. I've become a student again," he told Chavez over the phone
Tuesday in a soft but steady voice.
"I can't promise that I'll go over there soon," Castro said, but added,
"I feel good and I'm happy."
Until Tuesday, Castro only had been heard in pre-taped comments on
videos released by the Cuban government, which quelled speculation that
he was deathly ill but failed to give an immediate sense of his health.
In Havana, Castro loyalists were elated Wednesday.
"The tone of his voice is perfect," said a 46-year-old computer worker
who gave her name as Santa Elena, saying she thought Castro would make a
public appearance "any moment."
A 50-year-old trash collector named Cebeno, who also declined to give
his last name, said Castro's live conversation "confirms that he is
well" and that "he will appear again."
"I think he can continue as president," said 22-year-old journalism
student Juan Manuel. "The whole world knows the strength he has."
Castro's words to Chavez were spoken slowly -- and he appeared to catch
on a few words -- but he was in good spirits.
"My God! It's Fidel," Chavez said with obvious surprise at the
unexpected call and asked his close friend in English, "How are you?"
"Very well," Castro replied in English, prompting a chuckle from Chavez.
"You don't know how happy we are to hear your voice and know that you're
well," Chavez said.
During the 30-minute conversation, Castro touched on various topics,
including a reference to a plunge in U.S. and Chinese stocks earlier in
the day that he said should be a cause for worry for the U.S. government.
The 80-year-old leader transferred control of Cuba's government to his
brother Raul, 75, after undergoing intestinal surgery in July and
dropped out of public view, fueling speculation about his condition.
Cuba's communist government has kept Castro's condition and exact
ailment secret, and Chavez acknowledged that he has become an "emissary"
for news of his close friend and ally's health.
Castro thanked Chavez for keeping people informed but complained that
his supporters have "the habit, the vice" of expecting daily updates and
asked for patience, saying he is not the long orator he once was.
"Totally mute. I can't talk every day. I ask everyone for patience, calm
... the country is marching along, which is what is important," he said.
"And I ask for tranquility also for me so that I can fulfill my new
tasks," he said.
The conversation was not aired live in Cuba but, shortly afterward,
Cuban state television broke into the regular nightly news program to
broadcast the exchange.
In Miami, Alfredo Mesa, spokesman for the Cuban American National
Foundation, said Castro is already part of the past and encouraged
others to stop following the minute details of his illness.
"We need to stop worrying about Fidel Castro's health and focus more on
the people in positions of power today that can bring about change for
the Cuban people," Mesa said. "It's no longer about Fidel Castro."
Cuban officials have denied U.S. government reports that Castro suffered
from cancer. A Spanish newspaper reported last month that he had
diverticular disease, a weakening of the walls of the colon.
The Cuban government has sought to reassure Cubans after Castro ceded
power for the first time in 47 years, saying his health is stable and
the defense of the island guaranteed. It released a new video on Jan. 30
of Castro looking stronger than in previous images as he met with Chavez.
Chavez ended his conversation with his mentor telling him: "We will win
time and win the battle for life."
"Fatherland or death. We will prevail!" the two leaders repeated after