- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 6, 2006

From combined dispatches

HAVANA — Cuba’s propaganda mill was in overdrive yesterday, with former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega visiting Havana and Elian Gonzalez wishing a speedy recovery to “my dear grandpa Fidel.”

Communist Party officials were passing the word that President Fidel Castro was out of intensive care and recovering nicely, though there was still no official statement on his condition, which has been called a state secret.

A week after Mr. Castro temporarily ceded power during emergency surgery to his younger brother, Raul Castro still had not appeared in public or made any formal statement.

Reassuring statements were plentiful, however, from figures such as Mr. Ortega, who told Cuban state media, “I am sure that we will soon have Fidel resuming his functions and leading his people.”

A letter from Elian, the Cuban boy at the center of an international custody battle with family members in Miami six years ago, was published in the Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde. The letter was signed with “little kisses” from him and his half-siblings and cousins.

“We send you this letter to let you know that we are worried about your health,” wrote Elian, now 12. “We hope for your speedy recovery and take the opportunity to wish you a happy birthday, may you have many more.” The ailing leader turns 80 on Aug. 13.

One of the most authoritative comments on Mr. Castro’s condition came Saturday from Bolivia, where visiting Cuban Vice President Carlos Lage dismissed media reports that Mr. Castro had abdominal cancer.

“He is coming along well. He does not have stomach cancer,” Mr. Lage said. “He has been made well by the operation and is recuperating favorably.”

Despite the lack of an official statement from the Cuban government, party officials were letting it be known that Mr. Castro has been sitting up and eating as he recovers from surgery for abdominal bleeding.

“Fidel is definitely out of intensive care and doing as well as can be expected for his age, though no one knows exactly where he is, what he has and if he will ever resume all his activities,” a midlevel Havana party member told Reuters news agency.

“Everyone is breathing a little easier with the news, though we all remain very concerned,” a government official said.

Cuba watchers said it was significant that Mr. Lage and Health Minister Jose Ramon Balaguer, two top officials who gave word on Mr. Castro’s recovery after days of speculation over whether he was even alive, were traveling abroad.

Had Mr. Castro taken a turn for the worse, they would have been needed at home, the Cuba watchers said.

In Caracas, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close ally and economic backer of Cuba, said Mr. Castro was able to leave his bed and hold conversations.

“This morning I learned that he’s doing well, that he’s already standing up out of bed, he’s talking — more than he should because he talks a lot,” Mr. Chavez said during a conversation with Bolivian President Evo Morales broadcast on television. “He has sent us regards.”

National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon said Mr. Castro came through the complicated surgery so well that a few hours afterward “he was talking, he was making jokes.”

“That’s why I feel confident he will recover very soon,” Mr. Alarcon said, adding that Mr. Castro would have to slow down. Mr. Alarcon spoke Saturday night on a radio station in Miami, home to 650,000 Cuban-Americans and the center of Castro opposition.

“I hope everything stays the same now that his brother Raul is running the country,” a medical student named Angelica said as she built a sand castle on a packed beach a few miles west of Havana. “Especially the free health care and education.”

At Mass at Havana’s colonial-era cathedral, Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the Archbishop of Havana, asked for prayers for Mr. Castro and sought God’s guidance for those running the country “in this moment of such importance.”

Although ties between the church and state have been tense since the early days of Mr. Castro’s rule, Cardinal Ortega has kept the church out of politics and resisted calls from dissidents that it adopt a more critical stance.

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