November 7, 2006 in Nation/World

Cuban official hedges on Castro’s return

Vanessa Arrington Associated Press
 

HAVANA – Cuba’s foreign minister stepped back Monday from an earlier assertion that Fidel Castro would return to power in December and declined to say whether the ailing Cuban leader would be well enough to attend next month’s celebration of his 80th birthday.

Less than two months after saying he expected Castro to be fully back at the helm in early December, Felipe Perez Roque said he could not discuss when Castro will return.

“It’s a subject on which I don’t want to speculate,” the minister said. Castro’s return “will come when it’s the right moment.”

Perez Roque said he meets with Castro frequently and the Cuban leader is steadily recovering from his intestinal surgery.

“He looks good. I see that his recovery is advancing,” he said. “We are optimistic, and happy. The only ones who are sad are our enemies, who were all prepared to celebrate (his death).”

Up until his illness, Castro was known for micromanaging projects, leading massive marches along the Malecon coastal highway and giving hours-long speeches. Perez Roque declined to speculate on whether he would ever again be such an active leader.

“Whether things will be like before is a very difficult topic,” the minister said. “And I don’t have the information, or the capacity, to say.”

Castro has made no public appearances since July 26, when he announced he would undergo surgery and temporarily transferred power to his younger brother Raul. The Cuban government has treated Castro’s ailment as a state secret, releasing only sporadic videos and photographs to prove he is recovering.

A video released in late October on state-run television showed Castro defiantly denying rumors that he was on his deathbed. Yet some Cubans say they were surprised to see his continued frailty.

Castro turned 80 on Aug. 13. But when he announced his surgery, he said celebrations would be delayed until Dec. 2.

The transfer of power to Raul Castro went smoothly, and while many Cubans grumble about economic struggles they have seemed to accept the younger Castro as their leader, albeit temporarily. Perez Roque acknowledged the government faces some discontent, and even said some changes could be on the horizon.

“The Cuban government and the leadership of the (Communist) party are aware of, and share, these worries about … difficulties with the quality of life of the people,” he said. “All of our efforts are focused in the direction of finding solutions to these problems.”

While Perez Roque blamed the U.S. trade embargo for a scarcity of goods and lack of economic opportunity on the island, he acknowledged Cuban “errors” and “insufficiencies.”

“Does our economy require that we make decisions to change some things, to fix what is wrong? Yes,” he said. “And it can be done, in the right moment.”

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