Sat, Jan 26, 2008 - Page 7 News List

Fearing he would die, Fidel Castro revised memoirs

AP , HAVANA

Fidel Castro revealed on Thurs-day he thought he was dying when he fell ill in July 2006, and was so worried about his legacy that he ordered last-minute editing of his memoirs even as doctors struggled to save his life.

"When I fell gravely ill the night of the 26th and dawn of the 27th of July, I thought that would be the end," the ailing 81-year-old wrote in an essay published on the front page of state newspapers.

"And while the doctors fought for my life, the head aide of the Council of State read at my urging the text and I dictated the necessary changes," he said, referring to a book of interviews with a French journalist.

The essay marked one of the few times Castro has acknowledged how close he came to death during his illness, and indicated his concern over how he will be remembered when he is gone.

The book written by Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique, is based on more than 100 hours of interviews with Castro. It was originally published in Spain, but an English version was released this month in the US as Fidel Castro: My Life.

Castro said he "almost didn't sleep" in the days before falling ill because he was working on the Ramonet book.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 31, 2006, when his secretary Carlos Valenciaga read a statement on government television that emergency intestinal surgery was forcing the island's unchallenged leader since 1959 to cede power to a provisional government headed by his younger brother Raul.

Though he stepped aside as president, Castro has retained his role as head of the island's supreme governing body, the Council of State.

A slate of newly elected Cuban lawmakers meets on Feb. 24 and will choose a new Council of State from among its ranks, which include both Castro brothers. Fidel Castro wrote in December that he had no intention of clinging to power or standing in the way of a new generation of leaders, but has not said whether he wants to remain head of the council or permanently retire.

He is recovering in an undisclosed location and his condition and exact ailment are carefully guarded secrets.

Castro has looked gaunt and frail, but also upbeat and lucid in occasional recent official videos and photographs. Life on the island has remained little changed since he stepped down.

Thursday's lengthy essay, dated Jan. 22, focused on a two-and-a-half hour meeting last week with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.

Absent was a recreation of Castro's scrawled signature, which has been printed at the end of other recent writings.

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