- The Washington Times - Monday, August 7, 2006

HAVANA — Leftist intellectuals and human rights activists from around the world pleaded with the United States yesterday not to interfere with Cuba while Fidel Castro recovers from intestinal surgery.

Many of the 400 signers of the open letter are from Latin America, and numerous Nobel Peace Prize laureates are listed, such as former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa and activist Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala.

Announcing the letter at a press conference, leading Cuban writer Roberto Fernandez Retamar said Cubans are convinced that Mr. Castro’s transfer of power to his younger brother and defense minister, Raul Castro, is temporary.

“In a few months, we’ll have him back with us,” Mr. Retamar said.

That optimistic assessment has been reinforced by statements from Fidel Castro’s inner circle and Latin American allies, who say the Cuban leader is recovering well from surgery for internal bleeding.

Cubans were told that most details of his health would be kept “a state secret” to prevent enemies from taking advantage of his condition.

President Bush said the United States remains in the dark about the illness, but he didn’t miss the chance to motivate anti-Castro activists to push for change.

“The only thing I know is what has been speculated, and this is that, on the one hand, he is very ill and, on the other hand, he is going to be coming out of hospital,” Mr. Bush said at his ranch in Crawford, Texas. “Our desire is for the Cuban people to choose their own form of government.”

On Sunday, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice denied that the United States is contemplating an invasion of the island in the wake of Mr. Castro’s illness, but said Washington wants to help Cubans prepare for democracy.

“The notion that somehow the United States is going to invade Cuba, because there are troubles in Cuba, is simply far-fetched,” Miss Rice told NBC.

The Castro brothers have been out of sight since the July 31 announcement on state television that Fidel had undergone surgery and was temporarily ceding power to Raul. Meanwhile, the government has tried to promote a sense of normalcy, an image Mr. Retamar fostered yesterday.

“Fidel is not at the helm of Cuba, and there has been no chaos to overpower the Cuban people,” the writer said.

A growing number of Cuban officials and Castro allies have come forward, meanwhile, to say he will return soon.

“In a few weeks, he’ll be recovered and he’ll return to his duties,” Vice President Carlos Lage said Sunday, shooting down reports that Mr. Castro, who turns 80 on Aug. 13, has stomach cancer.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Mr. Castro was out of bed, talking, and even watching Mr. Chavez’s talk show.

“How are you, Fidel?” Mr. Chavez said during his weekly TV and radio program. “We have reliable information of your quick and notable recuperation.”

Mr. Chavez also called fellow leftist Bolivian President Evo Morales on the show Sunday, telling him Mr. Castro was bouncing back quickly.

The Communist Party daily Granma yesterday compared Mr. Castro to a caguairan, a tropical hardwood tree found in eastern Cuba where he was born. The tree “is incorruptible, compact, of extraordinary hardness,” the newspaper said.

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