Spanish doctor rebuts reports Fidel has cancer


Thu, Dec 28, 2006 - Page 7

A Spanish doctor who examined Cuban President Fidel Castro rebutted reports on Tuesday that the leader was dying.

On his return to Spain after visiting Cuba since Thursday, Jose Luis Garcma Sabrido, a chief surgeon at a Madrid hospital, denied "absolutely" that Castro had cancer.

Castro, 80, who reportedly underwent intestinal surgery on July 27, "is not suffering from a malignant illness but from a benign process with a series of complications," the surgeon told a news conference in Madrid.

The Cuban leader is "in a process of slow but progressive recovery" and does not need further surgery, he said, declining to give further details, citing patient confidentiality.

Asked whether Castro was suffering from cancer, Garcia Sabrido said: "I absolutely deny that, based on the information I have."

The Cuban leader, who has been in power since 1959, has not been seen in public for five months. There have been few medical updates since his reported surgery, after which he handed over power temporarily to his brother, Acting President Raul Castro.

Tightly controlled state media published no news on Tuesday of the Spanish surgeon's health update on the ailing leader.

But a source at the Cuban ministry in Madrid, cited by Spanish news agency Europa Press, called the news "very positive" and the report "rigorous."

In Cuba, the rumors about the doctor's report were flying. "Already at my house we know it and people in the neighborhood told my mother, that for sure it will be seen by antenna [illegal satellite television]," a youth in a crowded sector of Havana told reporters.

A 20-year-old University of Havana student said anonymously: "We would like more specific information, even if [Fidel Castro] does not appear in public; but we would like some message from the Comandante, an explanation."

Castro is `Fine'

Garcia Sabrido, who heads a surgery unit at Gregorio Maranon university hospital and is described by the Spanish media as a top gastroenterologist, described Castro's condition as "fine."

"Every day he asks to go back to work but the doctors won't allow it," he said after his visit to Cuba late last week.

He said he was full of admiration at Castro's "excellent and fantastic intellectual activity."

He examined Castro on the request of Havana and told reporters he had traveled to the island on "a strictly personal basis" after informing all relevant authorities in Spain.

It was his first medical examination of the Cuban leader, but he said several members of Castro's personal medical team were old acquaintances.

In Cuba, Castro's health is being treated as a state secret.