- The Washington Times - Wednesday, August 2, 2006

HAVANA — Fidel Castro said yesterday that he was stable and in good spirits after surgery, according to a statement read on state television, as the communist government tried to impose a sense of normalcy on the island without the bearded leader in charge.

The Cuban president, who temporarily handed power to younger brother Raul on Monday night after undergoing intestinal surgery, indicated the operation was serious when he said: “I cannot make up positive news.”

But he said his health was stable, and “as for my spirits, I feel perfectly fine,” according to the statement read by moderator Randy Alonso on a daily public affairs program. Mr. Castro said it would take some time for doctors “to provide a verdict” on his recovery.

Mr. Castro apologized for not giving more details, but he said the threat posed to his government by the United States means his health must be treated as “a state secret.”

Mr. Castro expressed gratitude for good wishes he received from leaders and supporters around the world, and he called on Cubans to remain calm as they carried out their routines.

“The country is prepared for its defense,” he said. “Everyone needs to struggle, and work.”

Across the Florida Straits in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood, a stronghold of anti-Castro Cuban exiles, spontaneous celebrations began overnight and continued through the day yesterday.

The Cuban-Americans reveled at the news that Mr. Castro had temporarily ceded power to his brother after an uninterrupted 47 years.

But the Monday night celebrations gave way to speculation about what would happen in Cuba when Mr. Castro dies.

Car horns still blared, but some cautioned that the celebrations may have been premature.

Cuban parliament Speaker Ricardo Alarcon called the celebrations “vomit-provoking acts” led by “mercenaries and terrorists.”

He told the government’s Prensa Latina news service that the Cuban leader is known for fighting to the very end, but that Mr. Castro’s “final moment is still very far away.”

Word spread quickly in the tightly knit Miami community, prompting ovations and animated conversation after the Monday night report that the 79-year-old leader underwent surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding.

Although there is no love among Cubans here for 75-year-old Raul Castro, the longtime Cuban minister of the armed forces, many saw the transfer as a weakening of the Castro brothers’ power base that has controlled Cuba since Fidel Castro successfully led a campaign to overthrow the Batista regime.

Cuban community leaders such as Alfredo Mesa, executive director of the Cuban American National Foundation in Miami, have implored Cuban officials subordinate to Raul Castro who might be inclined to promote democratic reform to step forward now.

“I trust that there are people in positions of power that see that they have an incredible opportunity to restore basic freedoms and dignity to the Cuban people,” Mr. Mesa said.

c Washington Times correspondent Carmen J. Gentile contributed to this report from Miami.

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