Ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro saluted Cubans on the eve of the revolution's 48th anniversary, thanking them for their support during his illness and telling them he had not lost his battle to recover.
"I am grateful to you for your affection and support," said the message read by a newscaster on state television and radio on Saturday. "Regarding my recovery, I have always warned that it could be a prolonged process, but it is far from being a lost battle. I collaborate as a disciplined patient, attended by the consecrated team of our doctors."
Castro, 80, traditionally sends a similar message to Cuban citizens every New Year's Eve to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, triumph of the revolution that brought him to power.
"I have not stopped being in the loop on main events and information," he added. "I have had exchanges with our closest comrades always when cooperation has been necessary on vitally important issues."
Earlier on Saturday, Cuba's Communist Party daily reported that Castro had telephoned the Chinese ambassador in Havana to wish Chinese President Hu Jintao (
Castro's message to the Cuban people and the short story about his call to the Chinese ambassador seemed aimed at assuring the world the leader's recovery continues, five months after he underwent emergency intestinal surgery.
Speculation about Castro's medical condition has been rife amid a lack of information from the communist government.
The last news in the state media about Castro was a story published on Dec. 16 saying that he had made separate telephone calls to Cuban lawmakers and his friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Castro has not been seen in public since several days before he announced on July 31 that he was temporarily stepping aside after an operation for intestinal surgery. He has provisionally ceded his powers to his brother Raul, the 75-year-old defense minister.
Saturday's story said Castro called the Chinese ambassador to Cuba on Thursday evening, and that they discussed relations between their countries. The ambassador also transmitted his president's wishes for Castro's speedy recovery.
The island's official media has not commented on a Spanish surgeon's declarations earlier this week that Castro did not have cancer and was slowly recovering from a serious operation.
Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, chief surgeon at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon Hospital, said he flew to Havana on Dec. 21 to see Castro and consult with the Cuban leader's medical team on how his treatment was progressing.
Castro's medical condition is a state secret, but Cuban authorities have denied he suffers from terminal cancer, as US intelligence officials have claimed. Cuban officials have nonetheless stopped insisting Castro will return to power.
Garcia Sabrido said Castro could resume the presidency if his recovery is "absolute."
Meanwhile, North Korean leader Kim Jong-il congratulated Castro yesterday on the eve of the anniversary of the revolution, the North's media reported.
Kim praised Castro "for decisively frustrating the vicious sanctions and blockade of the US imperialists" since the revolution in a message co-signed by the North's No. 2 leader, Kim Yong-nam, according to the North's state news agency.