Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage sought to knock down growing speculation about President 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 on Saturday during a visit to Bolivia for the opening of a constitutional assembly. "He's been made well by the operation and is recuperating favorably."
Lage's comments were the most detailed by a Cuban government official about Castro's medical condition since last Monday, when Castro announced he had undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding and temporarily handed over power to his brother Raul. The leader turned 80 yesterday.
Havana has provided no details and released no pictures of Castro -- fueling speculation around the world about his condition. Raul Castro, the defense 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 on Saturday 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."
Authorities have been calling on Cubans to reaffirm their commitment to Castro and the government, and have beefed up security by mobilizing citizen defense 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 hardline Cuban-American exiles. US President George W. 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.