Castro 'coming along well'

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage sought to dispel growing speculation about Fidel Castro’s health, saying he does not have stomach cancer and is recuperating well after surgery that prompted him to step aside temporarily.

Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage sought to dispel growing speculation about Fidel Castro’s health, saying he does not have stomach cancer and is recuperating well after surgery that prompted him to step aside temporarily.

“He is coming along well. He does not have stomach cancer,” Lage told reporters yesterday during a visit to Bolivia for the opening of a constitutional assembly. ”He’s been made well by the operation and is recuperating favourably.”

Lage’s comments were the most detailed by a Cuban government official about Castro’s medical condition since Monday, when Castro announced he had undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding and temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul. The leader turns 80 on August 13.

Havana has provided no details and released no pictures of Castro – fuelling speculation around the world about his condition. Raul Castro, the defence minister, also has not been seen in public since the announcement.

Cubans were told on Tuesday in a statement attributed to Castro that most details of his health would be kept “a state secret” to prevent the island’s enemies from taking advantage of his condition.

Doctors in the US said Castro’s condition could be life-threatening, but since details of his symptoms were unknown it was hard to say what caused the intestinal bleeding: severe ulcers, a colon condition called diverticulosis or even cancer.

Lage, who often represents Cuba at international gatherings, was in southern Bolivia as the Andean nation opened a convention to write its constitution.

Parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon also said in comments broadcast Saturday by CNN en Espanol that Castro “remains in stable condition” and “is resting in order to recover as quickly as possible.” The interview was taped late on Thursday by state-run Cubavision Internacional in a special package for CNN and was not previously aired.

The Communist Party’s daily newspaper Granma yesterday ran a series of emotional statements by some of the island’s top cultural figures wishing Castro a steady recovery.

“If it’s necessary to give him life, I will offer mine,” said Richard Egues, an elderly flutist with the Cuban orchestra Aragon who said he was also ill.

The statements pledged loyalty to Castro and the socialist system he created on the island.

“This is a delicate moment and it’s necessary to prepare, because the enemy might have illusions,” Juan Formell, director of Los Van Van, one of the island’s most popular tropical groups, said from Japan. “I trust in our Armed Forces, and in our people.”

Folk singer Pablo Milanes, also travelling outside Cuba, said he promised to represent Castro and the Cuban people ”as this moment deserves: with unity and courage in the presence of any threat or provocation.”

Authorities have been calling on Cubans to reaffirm their commitment to Castro and the government, and have beefed up security by mobilising citizen defence militias, increasing street patrols, and ordering decommissioned military officers to check in at posts daily.

The enemy in Cuba is perceived to be the US government and hard-line Cuban-American exiles. US President George Bush’s call on Thursday for democratic change on the island was seen as a provocation.

Washington insists it is pushing for peaceful change in Cuba and has no intentions of invading, with White House press secretary Tony Snow dismissing as “absurd” the suggestion that the US would attack.

Nevertheless, Cuban veterans – most of them in their 60s and 70s – promised they would fight for Cuba in the event of an attack.

“We will continue working with the same revolutionary fervour that you taught us,” the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution said in a statement printed on Granma’s front page Saturday.

The veterans fought in Castro’s battles of the 1950s to oust former dictator Fulgencio Batista and then defended the island against the failed US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion in 1961.

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