- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 6, 2006

HAVANA — Cuban leader Fidel Castro said he has put the worst of his health crisis behind him and will be able to receive foreign dignitaries in private during a summit of developing nations next week.

But the communist firebrand said in a statement published yesterday that a full recovery from the undisclosed illness that forced him to turn over power to his brother will take a long time.

Mr. Castro, 80, said he has lost 41 pounds since undergoing emergency surgery July 31 to stop intestinal bleeding caused by an unexpected health problem.

“One can say that the most critical moment is behind us. Today I am recovering at a satisfactory pace,” he said in a message to the Cuban people published by the ruling Communist Party newspaper Granma on its Web site, with photographs of him reading and writing in a rocking chair.

A thinner Castro appeared in pajamas and slippers in what looked like a hospital room in pictures on Granma’s site, www.granma.cubaweb.cu.

Mr. Castro said the last of his stitches was removed after 34 days of convalescence, and he has been busy looking over a second edition of a book of interviews he gave to Spanish journalist Ignacio Ramonet.

Mr. Castro, in power since a 1959 revolution against the regime of dictator Fulgencio Batista, stunned Cuba on July 31 when he ceded the presidency and leadership of the ruling Communist Party temporarily to his younger brother, Raul, while he recovers from the operation.

Rumors that he had died swirled until photographs and video images of a frail and bedridden Castro were released on his birthday, Aug. 13.

The Cuban leader said he will receive foreign dignitaries in the coming days, but said images would not readily be available, indicating meetings would not be in public.

Cuba will host a summit of the Nonaligned Movement of 116 developing nations next week in Havana. Many nations from Africa, Asia and Latin America will be represented.

Mr. Castro is not expected to be strong enough to host the event, which some 50 heads of state are due to attend. But a brief appearance has not been ruled out.

The Cuban government has denied reports that Mr. Castro suffered from stomach cancer. His illness is a state secret to avoid helping his enemies in the United States, officials say.

Cuba watchers think the Cuban leader’s health has been impaired and he will not be able to resume an active leadership role.

Mr. Castro asked the country to understand the need to withhold information about his health.

“We must all understand also that, realistically, a full recovery will take a long time, like it or not,” he said.

“At this time I am in no hurry at all, and no one should be in a hurry. The country is going well and advances,” he said.

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