- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 24, 2006

MADRID — A renowned Spanish surgeon has been rushed to Cuba to try to stop a steady deterioration in Fidel Castro’s health, a Spanish newspaper reported yesterday.

Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, an intestinal specialist, traveled to the Caribbean island on Thursday on an aircraft chartered by the Cuban government, according to Spain’s left-leaning El Periodico de Catalunya.

Dr. Garcia Sabrido was slated to carry out tests on Mr. Castro to see if he needs another operation after undergoing emergency surgery for intestinal bleeding in July, the newspaper said, citing hospital sources.

The doctor’s plane was carrying advanced medical equipment not available in Cuba, the newspaper reported.

Officials at Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon hospital, where Dr. Garcia Sabrido is head of surgery, declined to comment, as did the Cuban Embassy in Madrid.

Repeated calls by The Washington Times to the hospital also were not answered.

A State Department spokeswoman in Washington said she had seen the Spanish newspaper report, but could not independently confirm it or provide any additional information.

Dr. Garcia Sabrido was among doctors who presented their work at a surgery conference in Havana last month, according to the conference’s Web site.

Cuban officials say Mr. Castro is not dying and will return to public life. But he has skipped recent public appearances, including his 80th-birthday celebration, and appeared to be frail and walking with difficulty in video images released in October, fanning speculation that he is too ill to govern.

Rep. Bill Delahunt, Massachusetts Democrat, who was one of the leaders of a U.S. delegation that visited Cuba earlier this month, said he had concluded from discussions with officials there that if Mr. Castro did resume a political role, it would probably be setting broad policy, not governing on a day-to-day basis.

Mr. Castro was last seen in public on July 26, when he relinquished power in advance of emergency intestinal surgery. He named his younger brother, Raul, as the interim leader.

The Cuban National Assembly met for its year-end session Friday without Mr. Castro in another sign that his nearly half a century as Cuba’s hands-on leader may be over.

The seat usually occupied by Mr. Castro in Havana’s convention center was empty at the opening meeting, which was led by Raul Castro and other members of the island’s Communist Party leadership.

Party members paid tribute to the absent leader.

“Dear comrade Fidel … we are ready to obey your orders and guarantee your achievements with the faith in victory that you inspired in us,” Economy Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez told the 502 delegates.

On Wednesday, Raul Castro called his ailing brother “irreplaceable,” but nevertheless prepared for the task ahead.

Signaling a different style of government, he called for greater debate on public policies in the communist-run country.

“Sometimes people fear the word ‘disagree,’ but I say the more debate and the more disagreement you have, the better the decisions will be,” he said in a short speech to a conference of Cuba’s Federation of University Students in Havana.

Raul Castro, 75, said he was delegating more responsibilities and making fewer speeches than his famously verbose brother, and running the country of 11 million in a more collegial way.

“Fidel is irreplaceable, unless we all replace him together,” he said, repeating a statement he made in June that Fidel Castro’s only possible heir is Cuba’s Communist Party.

“Fidel is irreplaceable, and I don’t intend to imitate him. Those who imitate fail,” he said.

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