Cuba minister sees Castro more active soon

Campaign News | Wednesday, 21 March 2007

Fidel already involved in decision making process

HAVANA, March 20 - Cuba's convalescing leader, Fidel Castro, is recovering well from his July surgery and could soon take a more active role in running the country, a government minister said on Tuesday.

"We think that, as has been said, our leader is recovering, is advancing in the process of recovery, and I would say that he is already within the leadership from the point of view that he is sharing in the country's principal political and economic decisions," Yadira Garcia said.

"The expectation we all have is that, yes, we will soon have him with us in a more active way," she told a news conference at an oil and geology event.

Garcia, the minister in charge of Cuba's oil, energy and nickel industries, was the latest in a series of government officials to indicate that 80-year-old Castro's health is improving enough for him to take part in government decisions.

Her comments came as Colombian daily El Tiempo published a previously unseen photograph of Castro chatting to Nobel prize-winning Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez, a longtime friend, in Cuba last week.

Castro, wearing a red tracksuit, was standing in a sunny garden -- the first time he has been seen outside since he was taken ill. He has not appeared in his traditional olive green fatigues since he stepped down.

The last key Cold War player to defy the United States, Castro handed power to his brother Raul Castro almost eight months ago. He was recently heard speaking on the telephone with Venezuelan ally Hugo Chavez, but has yet to make a reappearance in public.

Castro stepped down on July 31 after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery. He is thought to have suffered from diverticulitis, or inflamed bulges in the large intestine, though his exact condition is a state secret in Cuba.


Bolivian President Evo Morales, another Castro ally, said at the weekend he was hopeful Castro would make a public appearance at an April 28 meeting in Cuba of a trade pact known as the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas, or ALBA.

Remarks by Garcia Marquez to Spanish newspaper El Pais saying he took a long walk with Castro have fanned speculation that the iconic revolutionary could use the meeting of a handful of regional presidents to address his nation.

The trade pact between Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua aims to rival U.S.-sponsored free-trade agreements, stressing solidarity and cooperation.

Cuba's Garcia did not confirm that Castro may show up at the meeting, saying: "This is a declaration made by President Evo (Morales) and he would have some basis for doing so."

Washington, impatient to see the end of Cuban communism and watching Castro's health closely, called on Tuesday for the release of 59 dissidents jailed four years ago this month.

"It is time for Cuban authorities to stop the cycle of repression," the U.S. Department of State said, as in Cuba, relatives of the dissidents held a protest in downtown Havana.

Fidel will stand for re-election, official says

Lengthy process of nomination for new parliament starts in summer

HAVANA 15 March - Fidel Castro will be in "perfect shape" to run for re-election to parliament next spring, the first step toward securing yet another term as Cuba's president, National Assembly head Ricardo Alarcon said Thursday.

"I would nominate him," said Alarcon, the highest-ranking member of parliament. "I'm sure he will be in perfect shape to continue handling his responsibilities."

Mobbed by foreign reporters following a parliamentary session to discuss Cuba's upcoming elections, Alarcon said Castro "is doing fine and continuing to focus on recovery and rehabilitation."

A lengthy process of nominating candidates for municipal elections will begin this summer, leading to several rounds of voting. Then, by March 2008, Cuba should be ready for parliamentary elections that are expected to include Castro, Alarcon said.

Castro, 80, is the world's longest-ruling head of state, occupying the island's presidency for 47 years before temporarily stepping aside in favor of his younger brother, Raul, after emergency intestinal surgery in July.

Alarcon said he has been in contact with Castro many times in recent weeks, but stopped short of saying he has seen him in person. He said that even though Castro ceded power to his 75-year-old brother, he never "abandoned his role."

"Fidel has been and is very involved, very connected, very active in all manner of important decisions that this country makes," Alarcon said. "What's happening is, he can't do it the same way he did before because he has to dedicate a good part of his time to recuperating physically."

Switching later to deliberate but fluent English, Alarcon told journalists: "To what extent he will go back to doing things the way he did, the way he is accustomed to, it's up to him."

He wouldn't say whether Raul Castro will remain acting president if his brother becomes well enough to return to work full-time.

Things in Cuba have remained calm and functioned normally under Raul Castro. Though Fidel has not appeared in public, he has sounded lucid and up on current events in a pair of recent telephone conversations with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez also said, in comments published Thursday by the Spanish newspaper El Pais, that Castro was recovering well. He said he met with Castro on Monday and they walked "kilometers, I would say."

Although Castro temporarily ceded his functions to his brother, he still holds the title of president of the Council of State, Cuba's supreme governing body.

Castro was last re-elected to his sixth term as council president by the parliament in March 2003, following direct elections in which 97 percent of Cubans participated.

Nearly all of Cuba's top leaders are directly elected members of parliament.

Alarcon, who is in his third five-year term as parliament speaker, said during Thursday's National Assembly session that there was no set date for any of the island's upcoming elections. He said grassroots meetings to better explain the process to voters was more important than a timetable.,0,2184888.story?coll=sfla-news-caribbean

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