Thu, Nov 30, 2006 - Page 7 News List

State of Castro's health in question at birthday party

AFP , HAVANA

New questions were raised about Cuban President Fidel Castro's health as a letter attributed to the ailing revolutionary saying he was not well enough to attend an 80th birthday celebration was read to that event late on Tuesday.

"I was not yet well enough, according to my physicians, to take part in such a challenging event, so I decided to speak with you in this way," a TV news presenter said, reading from the text attributed to Castro, dated Tuesday, to guests and supporters at Havana's Karl Marx Theater.

The theatre gala was attended by hundreds of people including Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque but not Raul Castro, Cuba's interim leader.

Cuba has been feverishly preparing its first military parade in a decade for Saturday, as part of the birthday celebrations. Cubans widely expect Fidel to turn out in his olive-green army uniform, but the letter cast some doubt on that possibility.

The somewhat disjointed missive ranged from a jab at the US to environmental concerns to comments on the birthday events.

Fidel Castro on July 31 announced he had handed over Cuba's helm temporarily for the first time in more than four decades, after surgery on July 27, to his brother Raul, the defense chief.

Authorities do not disclose many details on Fidel's health, which is considered a state secret. Speculation has been widespread that he will not be able to return to work full time. He delayed celebration of his Aug. 13 birthday until now, hoping his recovery would be well along.

US media reported he was seriously ill, possibly with end-stage cancer.

"Currently, we are facing an adversary who has dragged the United States to such a disaster that the American people are almost sure to prevent him from completing his presidential term," the text said, referring to US President George W. Bush.

The text also included greetings to guests and sponsors of the event.

Fidel Castro last appeared in a video Oct. 28 to refute rumors he was seriously ill or dead.

At that time, Castro warned that his recovery would be long and "not without risks."

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