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Castro cancer free, could govern again: doctor

Castro's disappearance from the public eye after emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding in July sparked frenzied speculation about his health.

india Updated: Dec 26, 2006 23:32 IST

A Spanish surgeon who has just examined Cuban leader Fidel Castro said on Tuesday he is making a good recovery from intestinal surgery, does not have cancer, and could return to governing his country.

Castro's disappearance from the public eye after emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding in July sparked frenzied speculation about his health, but surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido said the communist leader was in good condition.

"His physical activity is excellent, his intellectual activity intact, I'd say fantastic, he's recovering from his previous operation," Garcia Sabrido, head of surgery at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon public hospital, told a news conference after returning from Cuba.

"He asks every day to return to work, but doctors advise him not to, to take it easy," said Garcia Sabrido.

Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba last week to examine the 80-year-old leader, said he did not need further surgery but required physical therapy, a strict diet and rest.

"He does not have cancer, he has a problem with his digestive system," Garcia Sabrido said after the news conference. "President Castro has no malign inflammation, it's a benign process in which he has had a series of complications."

State secret

In Havana, Cuban officials declined to comment on the doctor's statements, saying Castro's condition was a state secret. But his prognosis was in line what they have been saying for months.

The Cuban population, used to being told little about the inner workings of the government, was unaware of Garcia Sabrido's visit to Cuba.

Castro supporters, worried by his disappearance and uncertain of their country's future, expressed relief at the doctor's comments.

"We hope that he will speak to the nation when he is well. We are anxious to know how he is," said a woman waiting at a bus stop. "I don't think there will be changes, Cuba will continue along the path he has shown us."

Other Cubans were not so relieved. "Does that mean he will take hold of the reins of power again?" asked a housewife in central Havana who did not want to be named.

After Castro's disappearance from the public eye, US intelligence chief John Negroponte told the Washington Post on December 15 that Castro was likely to die within months.

Garcia Sabrido said Castro could govern Cuba again.

"Yes, if his recovery is complete, yes," said the digestive system specialist who knows the Castro family and is a regular visitor to Cuba for medical conferences and to give treatment.

Garcia Sabrido said it was the first time he had treated Castro, and he did not plan to return to Cuba in the near future as the leader had an excellent medical team.

Defence Minister Raul Castro, 75, took over the government temporarily on July 31 when emergency surgery forced his famous brother to relinquish power for the first time since Cuba's 1959 revolution.

Video images released on October 28 showed the once towering revolutionary diminished to a frail and shuffling old man.

When Castro failed to show at a military parade in his honor on December 2, many began to doubt he would run the country again.

Delahunt, a Massachusetts Democrat who was in a delegation that visited Cuba this month, said he had concluded from discussions with officials there that if Castro did resume a political role, it would probably be setting broad policy, not governing on a day-to-day basis.

(Additional reporting by Milexsy Duran in Havana)

First Published: Dec 26, 2006 23:32 IST