'Worst is over' : Message from Fidel to the Cuban people

Campaign News | Thursday, 7 September 2006

Granma daily publishes new pictures and statement

Dear compatriots,

Recently, some film footage and photographs were published that our people liked very much.

Some of you, correctly, thought that I looked a little thin, as the only unfavorable element. I am very happy that you noticed that.

This enables me to send you a number of more recent photos, and at the same time, inform you that in just a few days, I lost 41 pounds. And, just a little while ago, they removed the last of my stitches after 34 days of convalescence.

Every single day, even during the most difficult ones after July 26, I have made an effort to overcome the adverse political consequences of this health problem that was so unexpected.

The result is that, for my own tranquility, I made progress on several important matters. I can tell you that the book Cien Horas con Fidel (100 Hours with Fidel), by (Ignacio) Ramonet, in which I was revising in detail my replies at the time that I became ill, is practically finished and will soon be published, as I had promised you. And that has not kept me from strictly fulfilling my responsibilities as a disciplined patient.

I can affirm to you that the most critical moment is behind us. I am now recovering at a satisfactory rate. In the coming days, I will be receiving distinguished visitors; that does not mean that every activity is immediately going to be accompanied by film footage or photographs, although news will always be provided about each one of them.

We should all understand that it is not convenient to systematically offer information, or to provide images of my health process. Likewise, we should all understand, realistically, that the time for my complete recovery, like it or not, will be a lengthy one.

Presently, I am not in any rush, and nobody should be worried. The country is running fine and making progress.

Today the new school year has begun with more students and perspectives than at any other time for our country. What a wonderful event!

There is just one more detail: to ask all honest compatriots, whom together constitute the overwhelming majority of the people, not to blame anyone for the discretion that, in the interest of our homeland and our Revolution, I have asked of everyone.

Infinite thanks!

Fidel Castro Ruz

September 4, 2006

(Translated by Granma International


HAVANA - Cuban leader Fidel Castro said the worst is over and he is recovering well from intestinal surgery one month ago despite losing 41 lbs (18.6 kg), a statement published on Tuesday said.

But he said a full recovery from his undisclosed illness will take a long time.

Castro, 80, said the last of his stitches was removed after 34 days of convalescence since his operation to stop intestinal surgery that forced him to turn over power to his younger brother.

"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 Communist Party newspaper Granma's Web site, with photographs of him reading in a rocking chair.

A thinner Castro appeared in pajamas and slippers sitting in a rocking chair in what looked like a hospital room in photographs on Granma's site


Fidel back to writing and giving orders, Chavez says

CARACAS, VENEZUELA - Cuban leader Fidel Castro is now able to write notes and give orders as he recovers from surgery, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday.

Castro temporarily handed power to his brother Raul on July 31 to recover from intestinal surgery after nearly 50 years of uninterrupted rule.

"He's writing already, (before) he couldn't even write, he was in recovery," Chavez said during his weekly Sunday broadcast, showing a handwritten note he said Castro had given him during his surprise visit to Cuba last week.

"He already sits up, writes, he has a phone, he gives orders, instructions."

Castro's exact health problem is a state secret in Cuba, leading to intense speculation over his condition and the future of Cuba's government.

Cuban officials have denied rumors that Castro has cancer, but a Cuban surgeon told Reuters that "something very bad must have happened to the Comandante."


Cubans Watch Fidel Castro Recover

Havana, Sep 2 (Prensa Latina) Cubans are joyfully speaking about the substantial recovery of President Fidel Castro, who was in high spirits during a short visit paid by his Venezuelan counterpart Hugo Chavez.

The TV broadcast showed Fidel Castro in good spirits, and the two presidents making jokes and talking about the future of their nations and humankind.

Fidel Castro sat on a chair, writing in a notebook on a table, and read notes he had taken down "to honor the excellent visit" of Chavez.

"Congratulations for you and your glorious Bolivarian people. The success of your latest tour surpassed all expectations. Times have changed, and there are new, unprecedented, nations with a great history like yours," Fidel Castro wrote.

Chavez read some of his own notes, saying "I see what you say, I have seen that new era everywhere, in Asia, Africa, Europe and even Latin America. You are aware of that and I really appreciate all those notes and hope to deserve them," said Chavez.

He said "On this third visit to Fidel I have seen a great recovery in the patient. One can tell just by looking at you, and in all senses. Congratulations Fidel, you are doing well."

The Venezuelan president thanked doctors for their work and said there are millions of people in the world who wanted to take care of him.

Upon arrival in Havana, Chavez was welcomed by Revolutionary Armed Forces Minister Raul Castro, (acting president), Vice President Carlos Lage and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque.

In a proclamation released a month ago, Fidel Castro informed Cubans of his health condition, temporarily delegating his duties and responsibilities as president to Raul Castro.

Nothing in Cuba has changed since, and millions of its citizens have supported the Revolution and their president.


Castro shows marked recovery during meeting with Chávez

From the Washington Post newspaper

Cuban leader Fidel Castro, looking notably better than he did when last seen almost three weeks ago, happily greeted Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez during a brief visit Friday aired on state television.

"Brother!" the 80-year-old Castro said from his sickbed, his face lighting up as Chávez entered the room where he was recuperating and gave him a warm embrace.

Cuban President Fidel Castro, a nemesis of the U. S. government for more than four decades, temporarily relinquished power July 31, saying he had undergone intestinal surgery.

"Gentleman of the heroic resistance!" the Venezuelan president responded with a smile to his good friend and ally.

"What joy!" Castro said after sitting up on his bed. "A million thanks!"

Chávez has now visited Castro three times since the Cuban leader announced on July 31 that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his brother, Raúl Castro, the defense minister. The specifics of Castro's ailment and the nature of his surgery have been treated as a state secret.

Castro, dressed in red pajamas, appeared much more animated and alert on the video than in those made when Chávez made his first post-surgery visit to the Cuban leader on Aug. 13, his 80th birthday.

During the earlier visit, Castro was more lethargic and did not move his head from the pillow. And it was difficult to make out his words.

Chávez visited Castro a second time during a brief stop in late August before he launched a foreign tour.

On Friday Chávez said: "I note an improvement in the patient!"

Stopping in Cuba on his return from an extensive tour of China, Malaysia, Syria and Angola, Chávez told Castro that people in the places he visited are praying for his recovery, even in the mountains of China.

"We all need you," Chávez said during the visit as both wrote messages to each other that they later read aloud.

In his message, Castro congratulated Chávez on his trip abroad. He told Chávez he represented a new era that "brings forth brilliant, audacious and courageous statesmen with new ideas like you."

After Castro transferred power, U.S. officials urged Chávez to help push for democratic changes in Cuba. Chávez argues that the United States -- not Cuba -- needs a transition to democracy.


Dying still not in his plans?

Two articles on Fidel

Will Castro see 80?

Scottish Sunday Herald on 6 August

Fidel Castro has long boasted that dying wasn’t in his plans. But, as he recovers from surgery this weekend, others aren’t so sure

By Elizabeth Mistry

IN just over a week, if all goes to plan, one of the world’s longest-serving heads of state will celebrate his 80th birthday. But since the Cuban press reported last week that President Fidel Castro, following surgery, had temporarily handed power to his younger brother Raul, the future of the jefe máximo (the “maximum boss”) - and of the Caribbean’s largest island - has been the subject of fevered speculation.

And while Raul is nominally in charge, Castro also delegated a number of roles to half a dozen senior Communist Party figures. Commentators have observed that regardless of who is at the helm, no one man can - or should - handle so many roles.

It is 30 years since Castro was elected president - although he was arguably the power behind the throne ever since the 1959 revolution which ousted Fulgencio Batista, a US ally who amassed a huge fortune from the casinos and prostitution rackets that fuelled the island’s reputation as a playground for Americans in the 1950s.

Almost half a century on, Castro maintained a reputation as a workaholic. He rarely missed a photo opportunity, made regular public appearances and frequently addressed the nation, sometimes for hours at a time. He once declared that “dying wasn’t in my plans” and that he would “go on for ever”.

This was something that successive US administrations have actively sought to prevent, with one former CIA operative estimating that the US was responsible for more than 600 assassination attempts on the former guerrilla fighter-turned head of state.

So Castro’s sudden withdrawal from public life - he has not been seen for more than a week - has unleashed a wave of rumours and conspiracy theories. Was he dying or dead? Could this be just another blip? After all, he seemed to have an almost uncanny ability to survive whatever the Americans threw at him: beautiful ex-lovers armed with pistols, poison, creams designed to make his beard fall out and exploding cigars. Surely this couldn’t be the end of the revolution - which for so many is synonymous with the man who once fought alongside Che Guevara.

And just 90 miles across the Florida straits, in Miami, where the majority of those who fled Cuba following the 1959 uprising still live with their descendants, the atmosphere is equally charged.

When news of Castro’s operation emerged, there was something of a celebration, with people dancing in the streets at the news that Castro had - albeit temporarily - stepped down. But many Cuba watchers, even those opposed to Castro’s administration, consider this reaction premature.

One week later, the news that one of Castro’s closest allies, the Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez, may visit him in the next few days, has brought the realisation that the jefe maximo may not, just yet, have smoked his last cigar.

Regardless, a substantial number of Miami’s 700,000-strong Cuban Americans believe Castro is dead - or as good as - and the lack of up-to-date footage of either Castro brother in the past few days has done nothing to dispel that.

“What is most worrying is that Raul Castro didn’t show up in the past four days,” said Amnesty International’s Cuba researcher, Gerardo Ducos . “Cubans are used to seeing some sort of figurehead and many people will be wondering why Raul hasn’t yet spoken out.”

But on the island things are calm, says Pepe del Rio, who rents out rooms in his small bungalow to tourists in order to earn extra money under a system that is technically illegal but widely tolerated.

“Things are fine here,” he said. “It is very quiet and there are lots of visitors here. We think it is just a matter of time before Fidel bounces back.”

Indeed, reports in the Cuban press - which is controlled by the government - have simply repeated the message that Fidel underwent a successful operation and that he is now convalescing.

“He will soon be back with us,” health minister José Ramón Balaguer told journalists. Some observers have suggested that Raul is maintaining a low profile out of respect for his sibling but it is also widely documented that he is simply biding his time and waiting, along with the rest of the world, to see if and when he reappears what sort of mental and physical shape Fidel is in.

And nobody is watching more closely than the man appointed by US President George Bush as “transition co-ordinator”: Caleb McCarry, head of the Commission for Assistance for a Free Cuba (CAFC), whose job description includes overseeing the post-Castro scenario on the island.

The commission, established almost two years ago, is an agency of the US State Department. Its remit, according to its website, is to “bring about a peaceful, near-term end to the dictatorship” and “to hasten the day when [Cubans] will be free from oppression”.

With its $80 million (£43m) budget, the commission has undertaken a number of initiatives designed to place further pressure on the Cuban government, in addition to the economic blockade started by the US in 1962.

In addition to encouraging opposition groups on and off the island, it cut the number of food parcels - a popular way for Cubans in the US to send help home - to one per household per month and made it more difficult for workers to send remittances - a vital source of income not only for the families on the receiving end of the moneygrams, but also for the government which took its own cut.

It has also opened two of the only uncensored internet facilities on the island although it is unclear just how accessible these are to Cubans, given that associating with US government employees, such as those working in the US Special Interests Section in Havana, is liable to attract a jail sentence.

Amnesty’s Ducos says there are at least 79 Cubans currently classed as prisoners of conscience among the many thousands of dissidents believed to be in the island’s jails, many simply charged with meeting members of the Special Interests Section.

Clearly, Bush is determined to add Cuba to his shopping list, and as a sign of the commission’s strategic role in US foreign policy, he appointed Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to chair it. And it was Rice who, on Friday night, took time out from the current round of discussions over the Israeli-Lebanon conflict to send a message to islanders.

“We stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance as you begin to chart a new course for your country,” she told Cubans before calling for a transition “that quickly leads to multi-party elections”.

Afterwards McCarry - who visited London in November and met the Foreign Office minister responsible for Latin America and the Caribbean, Lord Triesman of Tottenham - told the Sunday Herald he felt that the UK government had been very receptive last year.

“An undemocratic Cuba is a destabilising force in the region and we believe a democratic Cuba could once again be part of the international system. Britain shares a common goal of seeing Cuba become a democracy and shares our message that all democracies should be working together to support democracy in Cuba,” he said.

But this doesn’t tally with the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s stated position on Cuba, which, while advocating a peaceful transition, prefers “constructive engagement rather than isolation”. This worries Robert Miller, director of the Cuba Solidarity Campaign, a UK organisation working with the island on a number of projects including working holidays known as “Brigades”.

H e believes that the US is looking for an excuse to extend its presence on the island which is at present limited to the naval base at Guantanamo Bay - a key instrument in the war on terrorism - and the US Special Interests Section in Havana, seen by many Cubans as a CIA base on the island.

Miller is also concerned about the link between the Foreign Office and the CAFC, which he calls “the most blatant blueprint for aggression that anyone has ever seen”.

“The US have already picked their guy to run Havana. This must contravene all international norms on sovereignty. It is impossible to tell exactly what is in the report because it contains a secret annexe which has not been made public,” he said.

But what worries Miller most of all is the British government’s refusal to release any information on a meeting last year between McCarry and the Foreign Office.

“There was also a request submitted under the UK Freedom of Information Act to determine the breadth and content of the discussions between our government and Caleb McCarry. This was denied and is now subject to appeal,” he said.

“Over 200 MPs have signed an early day motion criticising the commission and I think the British people should be asking why our government is talking to a guy whose sole remit is regime change in another country.”

The Foreign Office was unable to respond to the Sunday Herald’s enquiries about either the meeting with McCarry or the appeal regarding the FOI request.

For Amnesty’s Gerardo Ducos, the response of the US will be crucial to how things develop next.

“The US must give the Cuban people time to decide in their own way,” he said. “An invasion would provoke a huge international response, especially from Europe and other Latin American counties. The best-case scenario would be a low-key transition which would have a positive effect for the country, for human rights defenders and prisoners of conscience. Quite often in situations like this in Latin America, there will be some sort of amnesty for some prisoners. That is what we would hopefully see.”

But with conflicting messages coming from both within and outside the island, what will happen next is anyone’s guess. The caretaker regime may well find that “no news is good news” suits it well enough for now, at least until the Non-Aligned Movement’s conference which opens in Havana on September 11, 2006, the five-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks in the US.

No doubt that date will not be lost on Washington, which will not be sending a representative, although many other countries will be attending and watching with great interest to see who will be climbing the podium to make the opening speech.

06 August 2006


The last days of the patriarch

Toronto Star 13 August, 2006

EXCLUSIVE | Pierre Trudeau had a friendship with Fidel Castro that went beyond politics. It was a mutual admiration between two men who put their unmatched intellects at the service of their country.

On Castro's 80th birthday, an essay by Alexandre Trudeau

Aug. 13, 2006. 07:38 AM



I grew up knowing that Fidel Castro had a special place among my family's friends. We had a picture of him at home: a great big man with a beard who wore military fatigues and held my baby brother Michel in his arms. When he met my little brother in 1976, he even gave him a nickname that would stick with him his whole life: "Micha-Miche."

A few years later, when Michel was around 8 years old, I remember him complaining to my mother that my older brother and I both had more friends than he did. My mother told him that, unlike us, he had the greatest friend of all: he had Fidel.

For many years, Cuba remained Michel's exclusive realm; whenever someone would accompany my father there, it would naturally be Michel. It wasn't until after both my father's and brother's deaths that I got a chance to visit Fidel and his country, Cuba.

Fidel may have been at first a political contact of my father's but their relationship was much more than that. It was extra-political.

Indeed, like my father, in private, Fidel is not a politician. He is more in the vein of a great adventurer or a great scientific mind. Fidel doesn't really do politics. He is a revolutionary.

He lives to learn and to put his knowledge in the service of the revolution. For Fidel, revolution is really a work of reason. In his view, revolution, when rigorously adopted, cannot fail to lead humanity towards ever greater justice, towards an ever more perfect social order.

Fidel is also the most curious man that I have ever met. He wants to know all there is to be known. He is famous for not sleeping, instead spending the night studying and learning.

He also knows what he doesn't know, and when he meets you he immediately seeks to identify what he might learn from you. Once he has ascertained an area of expertise that might be of interest, he begins with his questions. One after the other. He synthesizes information quickly and gets back to you with ever deeper and more complex questions, getting more and more excited as he illuminates, through his Socratic interrogation, new parcels of knowledge and understanding he might add to his own mental library.

His intellect is one of the most broad and complete that can be found. He is an expert on genetics, on automobile combustion engines, on stock markets. On everything.

Combined with a Herculean physique and extraordinary personal courage, this monumental intellect makes Fidel the giant that he is.

He is something of a superman. My father once told us how he had expressed to Fidel his desire to do some diving in Cuba. Fidel took him to the most enchanting spot on the island and set him up with equipment and a tank. He stood back as my father geared up and began to dive alone.

When my father had reached a depth of around 60 feet, he realized that Fidel was down there with him, that he had descended without a tank and that there he was with a knife in hand prying sea urchins off the ocean floor, grinning.

Back on the surface, they feasted on the raw sea urchins, seasoned with lime juice.

Fidel turns 80 years old today. A couple of weeks ago, he shocked the world by turning power over to his brother Raul after holding it without interruption since the 1959 revolution. In newspapers across the world, pundits solemnly declared that even giants are mortal and that no revolution is eternal. Historians even began to prepare the space that will be granted Fidel in history books.

Fidel may seem an anachronism: a visionary statesman in a world where his kind have long since been replaced by mere managers, a 20th-century icon still present in the 21st century.

There is also wild speculation about what fate awaits Cuba after Castro. It is important to note, however, that while the whole world works itself up about the matter, Cubans themselves play it cool. Some of my shrewder Cuban friends even say that this temporary withdrawal from power is another one of Castro's clever strategies; that it is something of a test and that he will soon be back at the helm. They say that, on one hand, Castro is allowing the Cuban people, and more specifically the Cuban state apparatus, to become accustomed to the leadership of his brother Raul. On the other hand, Castro is carefully watching for hints as to how the world - and, more importantly, the United States - will react to his final departure.

Cubans remain very proud of Castro, even those who don't share his vision. They know that, among the world's many peoples, they have the most audacious and brilliant of leaders. They respect his intellectual machismo and rigour.

But Castro's leadership can be something of a burden, too. They do occasionally complain, often as an adolescent might complain about a too strict and demanding father. The Jefe (chief) sees all and knows all, they might say. In particular, young Cubans have told me that an outsider cannot ever really imagine what it is like to live in such a hermetic society, where everyone has an assigned spot and is watched and judged carefully. You can never really learn on your own, they might say. The Jefe always knows what is best for you. It can be suffocating, they say.

I met a young man in the small provincial town of Remedios who worked there as a cigar roller. We shared a great love for the works of Dostoyevsky. When I expressed to him my excitement at meeting a fellow aficionado of Russian literature, he flatly told me: "Yes, Fidel has taught me to read and to think, but look what work he sets me out to do with this education: I roll cigars!"

Cuba under Castro is a remarkably literate and healthy country, but it is undeniably poor. Historians will note, however, that never in modern times has a small, peaceful country been more subjected to unfair and malicious treatment by a superpower than Cuba has by the United States.

From the very start, the United States never gave Castro's Cuba a choice. Either Castro had to submit himself and his people to America's will or he had to hold his ground against them.

Which is what he did, in the process drawing the Cuban people into this taxing dialectic that continues to this day. Cubans pay the price and may occasionally complain of their fate, but they rarely blame Castro. The United States never fails to make the Cuban people well aware of its spite for this small neighbouring country that dares to be independent.

With the possible exception of Nelson Mandela, already well into retirement, Fidel is the last of the global patriarchs. Reason, revolution and virtue are becoming more and more distant and abstract concepts. We will perhaps never see another patriarch.

We thus have to conceive of the departure of the last patriarch in psychoanalytical terms. The death of the father doesn't signal our liberation from him - quite the contrary. The death of a father so grand and present as Castro will, rather, immortalize him in the minds of his children.

It is true that Cubans may eventually cast away the communist orthodoxy of the revolution. They will become tempted by American capital and values as soon as the embargo against them is lifted, something that will surely follow in the not so distant future. They will have new opportunities for individual fulfilment and downfall. Without a doubt, Cuba without Castro will not remain unchanged.

But Cubans will continue to be subjected to Castro's influence. Whether they like it or not, they will continue to be called out by his voice, by his questions, by his inescapable rationality, which, whether they heed its call or not, demands they defend the integrity of Cuba and urges them to seek justice and excellence in all things.

For a generation to come, they will be haunted by the vision of a society that never existed and probably never will exist, but which their once-leader, the most brilliant and obsessed of all, never stopped believing could exist and should exist.

Cubans will always feel privileged that they, and they alone, had Fidel.


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