- The Washington Times - Friday, January 19, 2007

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said yesterday that Fidel Castro is “battling for his life” and said he spoke with the Cuban leader for nearly half an hour several days ago.

Mr. Chavez compared Mr. Castro’s attempt to recover from an unspecified medical condition to efforts in the 1950s, when Mr. Castro was a guerrilla in Cuba’s eastern mountains fighting the government he would eventually overthrow.

“Fidel is in the Sierra Maestra again, battling for his life,” Mr. Chavez said after attending a summit of South American leaders in Rio.

Mr. Castro, 80, has not been seen in public since shortly before July 31, when he announced he was temporarily stepping aside while he recovered from an operation.

He provisionally ceded power to his brother Raul, the 75-year-old defense minister.

Mr. Castro’s medical condition is a state secret, but Cuban authorities deny he suffers from terminal cancer, as U.S. intelligence officials have claimed.

The El Pais newspaper in Spain reported Wednesday that Mr. Castro told surgeons not to perform a colostomy last year, opting instead for a course of surgery that produced a complication that left the Cuban leader in far worse condition.

After removing an inflamed piece of Mr. Castro’s large intestine in an operation last year, doctors connected the remainder directly to his rectum, rather than attaching a colostomy bag, El Pais said, quoting two medical sources at Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital. The operation failed when a suture burst.

“The Cuban dictator and his advisers are the ones who decided on the surgical technique that has led to the complications,” the paper said.

While the newspaper article did not name the sources, one of the journalists who wrote it told the Associated Press that both were doctors at the hospital.

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