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Archive for Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Surgeon: Castro recovering from ‘benign illness’

December 27, 2006

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Fidel Castro "absolutely" does not have cancer, but is recovering from complications after surgery to treat a "benign illness," a Spanish surgeon who examined the Cuban leader said Tuesday in the first independent medical opinion of Castro's health since he gave up power almost five months ago.

Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, chief surgeon at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon General Hospital, flew to Havana on Thursday on a flight chartered by the Cuban government. Garcia Sabrido held a press conference in Madrid on Tuesday, where he offered few medical details about what is ailing the controversial Cuban leader, but insisted that Castro is not dying of cancer.

"Within the rules of confidentiality, what I can say is that President Castro doesn't suffer from a malignant illness," Garcia Sabrido said at the televised news conference when asked whether Castro's illness was curable. "It's a benign illness for which he has had a series of complications."

Asked if he had cancer, Garcia Sabrido said, "From what I know, I absolutely deny it."

The doctor's words did little to sway U.S. officials from their belief that the Cuban leader is gravely ill.

Castro stepped down from office July 31, saying he had undergone intestinal surgery. Officially a state secret, little has been said about his health since. Most Cuba-watchers came to believe Castro was in the last stages of a terminal illness when he failed to appear at a Dec. 2 parade in his honor.

The State Department declined to comment on the Spanish doctor's assessment. But privately officials reiterated the U.S. government's previously stated belief that Castro is more ill than Cuban officials have let on.

The State Department has said since August that it believes Castro will not return to wield the kind of absolute power he once held.

Garcia Sabrido said Castro asks every day to return to work, but doctors in Havana have demanded prudence. Garcia Sabrido did not discount the possibility that Castro could return to office if his recovery is "absolute."

"I think that in these moments his decision to delegate power implies that he must now be dedicated to his recovery," the Associated Press reported. "What happens in the future will be an absolutely personal matter."

Among Garcia Sabrido's revelations:

¢ For now, no more surgeries are being considered.

¢ Castro is in stable condition after the very serious surgery.

¢ His mental condition is "exceptional and fantastic," and he has a surprising ability to recount historical anecdotes.

¢ His recovery includes nutrition.

¢ This was the first time he examined Castro, but they had met previously.

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