Cuban official denies Castro's condition is `very grave'

AP , MADRID

Wed, Jan 17, 2007 - Page 1

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in "very grave" condition after three failed operations and complications from the intestinal infection diverticulitis, a Spanish newspaper reported yesterday. A Cuban diplomat called the report a "lie."

The newspaper El Pais cited two unnamed sources from the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid. The facility employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba last month to treat the 80-year-old Castro.

In a report published on its Web site, El Pais said: "A grave infection in the large intestine, at least three failed operations and various complications have left the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, laid up with a very grave prognosis."

El Pais said that last month, when Garcia Sabrido visited, Castro had an abdominal wound that was leaking more than half a liter of fluids a day, causing "a severe loss of nutrients." The Cuban leader was being fed intravenously, the report said.

Sabrido, the Madrid hospital's chief surgeon, could not immediately be reached for comment early yesterday. A secretary who answered the phone at his office said the surgeon was not planning to comment on the report.

A Cuban diplomat in Madrid said the newspaper's report was "an invented story."

"It's another lie and we are not going to talk about it. If anyone has to talk about Castro's illness it's Havana," said the diplomat, who spoke on condition of anonymity in line with normal diplomatic practice.

"It's an invented story. I don't know anything about this," the diplomat said.

Cuba has released little information on Castro's condition since he temporarily ceded power in July to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, until he could recover from emergency intestinal surgery, prompting much speculation and rumor in the country and around the world.

El Pais' report, which could not immediately be confirmed, was a rare detailed description from a major media outlet about Castro's condition.

The US government had speculated that Castro could be suffering from cancer -- a supposition which Sabrido denied.

Some US doctors believed Castro was suffering from diverticular disease, which can cause bleeding in the lower intestine, especially in people over 60. In severe cases, emergency surgery may be required.

That idea was supported by El Pais, which reported that its sources said Castro had suffered a bout of the disease.