Thu, Aug 10, 2006 - Page 7 News List

Hundreds rally behind Castro

COMANDANTE Fidel Castro hasn't been seen publicly since July 26, but children and adults gathered on Tuesday to express confidence that their leader will recover

AP , HAVANA

Communist officials rallied hundreds in outdoor meetings to publicly declare their support for ailing leader Fidel Castro as assurances he was recovering began to ease Cubans' worries about their long-ruling leader.

Several hundred people waving small red, white and blue Cuban flags sang the national anthem in the plaza of a working class neighborhood just before sundown on Tuesday as local Communist officials whipped up patriotic fervor through exhortations from a sound stage on a tractor-trailer.

Meanwhile, Castro's ally and friend Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez expressed confidence in the Cuban leader's recovery, calling him "the father of this continent's revolutionaries."

"I have very, very much faith that Fidel will fully recover from his ailment, from the operation they had to perform on him," Chavez said on Tuesday night in Venezuela, referring to Castro's recent intestinal surgery.

Nevertheless, Chavez said that Castro told him at last month's Mercosur summit in Argentina, before he became ill, that Cuba "will continue on his path" when he dies.

"There's a team, a revolution, a people prepared for whatever comes," Chavez said, quoting Castro.

At the Havana neighborhood rally, men, women and even the smallest children chanted "Long live Fidel! Long live Raul!" in support of Castro and his brother Raul, to whom he has temporarily ceded power.

"We are here for the life of our comandante," said Olga Rosada, who appeared to be in her late 60s.

Referring to a generalized belief that the US government or Cuban exiles want to take advantage of Castro's current health problem to invade, Rosada said Cubans "don't fear anyone or anything. And if anyone wants to come here, let them come. They are going to leave crushed!"

"We are praying for the life of our commander in chief because we love him," said neighborhood resident Alejandrina Legran. "He's the prince of our people. We owe him our respect and obedience."

Cubans interviewed in recent days seem increasingly confident that Castro will be back on his feet in a few weeks, with some speculating that the man who has governed them for 47 years may make an appearance on Sunday, his 80th birthday.

"He is invulnerable, and will get better," said Lazaro Martinez, a 65-year-old flower vendor. "We are anxious to see him, but we also understand the situation he is in."

Castro hasn't been seen publicly since July 26, when he gave two speeches in eastern Cuba to celebrate the island's Revolution Day. Five days later, his secretary went on state television to announce that the leader had undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding and was temporarily handing over power to his younger brother, the defense minister.

Statements in recent days -- such as Vice President Carlos Lage's remark that Castro himself has said he'll be back at work "in a few weeks" -- seem to have calmed uncertainty and speculation among Cubans that their leader was on his deathbed, or maybe even in his grave. Still, details on his specific condition have yet to be released.

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