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Saturday, October 07, 2006

Castro Is Reported to Have Cancer


U.S. intelligence reports now say the Cuban leader's condition appears terminal, government officials tell TIME

Ever since President Fidel Castro was sidelined for what was said to be abdominal surgery last July, Cuban officials have maintained that the country's leader will return to his post. ''We will again have him leading the revolution,'' said Foreign Minister Felipe P�rez Roque just two days ago, speaking at an outdoor rally to protest the U.S. trade embargo against Cuba, according to the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma.

But U.S. officials tell TIME that many in the U.S. government are now convinced that Castro, 80, has terminal cancer and will never return to power. "Certainly we have heard this, that this guy has terminal cancer," said one U.S. official.

Of course, such intelligence reports could be wrong, and one official cautioned that definitive proof is nearly impossible for the U.S. to come by. Yet the fact that the Cuban government removed Castro from the public stage before his death could suggest that Castro and his would-be successors were aware of a terminal condition and wanted to gauge public reaction to his absence. "They got to see how people would react," says one U.S. official. "They have had a chance to see how things might work without out him functioning day-to-day."

The U.S. government has been preparing for Castro's departure for half a century. That doesn't mean that things will change much. Fidel's brother Raul, 75, has been acting president since Fidel went into the hospital and has given no indication that he will change the policies of the isolated Communist government that has tormented the U.S. since taking power in 1959. Though he has until recently kept a very low profile, Raul Castro — not Fidel — was feted as the host of the non-aligned nations' summit on Sept. 15. Then Raul called a high profile meeting of the country's local, provincial and national leadership at what he called "this historic moment in our country's history." In another sign of his increasing prominence, two weeks ago Raul delivered his first televised national speech at the close of a trade union federation congress.

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