Cuban President Fidel Castro tripped and fell after leaving the stage at a graduation ceremony, fracturing a knee and arm but later returning to say that he was “all in one piece”.
His tumble after last night’s night speech in the city of Santa Clara was certain to launch a new round of speculation about the 78-year-old communist leader’s health after 45 years of rule.
A medical examination today confirmed that Castro suffered a broken left knee and a hairline fracture in his upper right arm, said an official announcement on state television.
“His general health is good, and is in excellent spirits,” it said, adding that Castro asked that the announcement be made.
“He asked that thanks be given in his name for the innumerable expressions of concern and solidarity from the people,” the statement added. “He asked for calm, considering that very soon he will be back in place.”
Castro was earlier seen leaving Santa Clara, about a three-hour drive east of Havana, in his black Mercedes Benz.
Speaking live on state television, less than a minute after his fall, Castro said he thought he had broken his knee “and maybe an arm … but I am all in one piece.”
“I will do what is possible to recover as fast as possible, but as you can see I can still talk,” he said, sweating profusely into his olive green uniform as he sat in a folding chair. “Even if they put me in a cast, I can continue in my work.”
He asked Cubans to forgive him for “any suffering this may have caused”.
He noted the presence of international photographers and television camera crews at the event: “The international press has captured it and surely tomorrow it will be on the front pages of the newspapers,” said Castro.
An Associated Press photographer at the scene said Castro tripped on a concrete step after he finished walking down the stairs from the stage, then fell onto the ground on his right side, first hitting his knee and hip, and then his elbow and arm.
He was immediately surrounded by scores of security agents and others who rushed to help him up.
As he has grown older, Castro’s knees have seemed more wobbly, his step less steady.
Nevertheless, he maintains a busy schedule that frequently includes all-night meetings with aides and visitors.
Castro’s health has long been closely watched – particularly by his political enemies in Miami, home to a large Cuban exile community.
Such speculation was particularly fierce three years ago when he apparently fainted during a speech under a scorching Caribbean summer sun before a crowd of thousands.
Many people burst into tears after watching Cuba’s commander in chief start to collapse behind the podium several hours into that speech in June 2001.
Castro returned minutes later to assure people in the audience – and millions more watching it live on television – that he was fine.