Two boys, living under decades-long ruthless American de facto blockade, in Havana under a sign that reads, "Live Fidel, 80 more [years]." Photograph: Alejandro Ernesto/EPA
I am perfectly well, says Castro from his hospital bed
Wednesday August 2, 2006
Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader who announced this week that he was stepping aside temporarily because of ill-health, said today that he was "perfectly well" and recovering after intestinal surgery.
His statement on Cuban television was aimed at quashing rumours that his condition was more serious than admitted. While Raul Castro, 75, who has taken over from his brother, has yet to make a public appearance since the announcement, the ailing president issued a statement to the nation through a spokesman.
"The country is prepared for its defence," he said. "The important thing is that in the country everything is going perfectly well and will continue to do so."
A party to be hosted by Mr Castro to celebrate his 80th birthday on August 13 has been postponed until December, which indicates a long recuperation is necessary.
Mr Castro also thanked the leaders of Venezuela, China, Brazil, Bolivia and Mexico, who had sent messages wishing him a speedy recovery.
The large Cuban exile community in Miami continued to celebrate his illness and to predict his death. Their behaviour was attacked by Ricardo Alarcon, the president of the Cuban national assembly and seen as a key figure in the succession to Castro. He described the street demonstrations there as "sickening" and said they were coordinated by "mercenaries and terrorists". Mr Alarcon also sought to discredit suggestions that Fidel Castro was gravely ill, saying "that final moment is still very far away".
"Everything is normal here – for the moment," 41-year-old hospital worker Emilio Garcia told the Associated Press. "But we've never experienced this before – it's like a small test of how things could be without Fidel."
The official Communist party daily newspaper, Granma, printed a "Get well, Fidel", headline and a story about good wishes sent to him from abroad. "The one exception," reported the paper, was Miami, where the behaviour of people hoping for Mr Castro's death was "odious".
While Raul Castro has taken on the lead role in government, his brother has passed on different powers to other members of his cabinet, which some analysts see as a sign that he is aiming for a collective leadership to replace him. Raul Castro is said not to be in the best of health and to have suffered liver problems.
The US coastguard has not reported any unusual traffic on the seas between Cuba and the US mainland.