- The Washington Times - Saturday, October 28, 2006

HAVANA — Cuban leader Fidel Castro defiantly dismissed rumors that he was dead yesterday in television images showing him walking, talking on the telephone and reading the day’s newspapers.

In the first images of him issued in six weeks, Mr. Castro said he was taking part in government decisions, following the news and making regular phone calls as he recovers from emergency intestinal surgery in late July.

“Now that our enemies have prematurely declared me dying or dead, I am happy to send my compatriots and friends around the world this short film material,” Mr. Castro said.

“Now let’s see what they say. They will have to resurrect me,” the gray-bearded Marxist said.

The images showed a gaunt-looking Mr. Castro browsing through yesterday’s ruling Communist Party daily Granma, walking slowly but steadily out of an elevator in a track-suit and talking on a telephone in a loud, clear voice.

A television presenter said the images, aimed to quell rumors of Mr. Castro’s death started by Cuban exiles in the United States, were recorded yesterday afternoon.

Mr. Castro’s prolonged absence from the public set off rumors in recent weeks that the 80-year-old leader was dead and change was imminent in Cuba, one of the world’s last communist-run nations.

The rumor mill was fueled last week by Brazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva when he inadvertently implied Mr. Castro was dead and by a Caracas newspaper report that said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Cuba’s main ally, had visited Havana secretly to say goodbye to Mr. Castro.

The leader was forced to relinquish power temporarily for the first time since his 1959 revolution to his younger brother Raul July 31 after undergoing surgery to stop intestinal bleeding.

Earlier this month, Time magazine quoted an unnamed U.S. official saying that Mr. Castro had terminal cancer.

Cuban officials have denied Mr. Castro has stomach cancer and insisted he is recovering gradually and will return to lead the country. But they have given no details of his illness, which are a closely guarded state secret.

Raul Castro, 75, has not been seen in public for three weeks. Camera-shy and less charismatic then his brother, Raul hosted a summit of the Non-Aligned Movement of developing nations in September when the president failed to appear.

Most Cubans expect their leader to appear in uniform on Dec. 2 for a military parade marking the 50th anniversary of his landing with a handful of guerrillas to start an armed uprising in the Sierra Maestra mountains of eastern Cuba.

Mr. Castro called the rumors of his death “foolish” and said they stimulated him to continue “working and fighting.”

He ended his video message with his usual slogan “Patria o muerte, venceremos,” or, fatherland or death, to victory.

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