WASHINGTON – The U.S. government believes that Cuban leader Fidel Castro has terminal cancer and has less than 18 months to live, officials say.
The information is not based on insider reports but rather on publicly available materials such as videos and still photographs of Castro released by the communist government, according to U.S. officials who spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the issue.
The officials said the government is convinced that Castro suffers from terminal cancer but does not know what type of cancer or what part of his body it is affecting. It was not clear when the 18-month period began or ends.
On July 31, Castro handed most of his powers to his brother Raul Castro after undergoing intestinal surgery for a still undisclosed ailment. Castro has never flatly denied earlier reports that he suffers from cancer.
Since then, the Cuban government has periodically released videos and photos of the 80-year-old Castro, including Oct. 28 footage that showed him pointing to media reports published that day to deny widespread rumors that he had died.
The several sets of photos of Fidel Castro released by the Cuban government have shown him in what appears to be a progressively worsening health. His speech seems weak and slow, and the one video of him walking shows him taking faltering, wide-apart steps.
The U.S. officials cite the Cuban leader’s own report about six weeks ago that he had lost 41 pounds as a “wasting” of muscle tissue – a telltale sign of cancer.
Several of the more recent photographs have shown him wearing an oversized track suit in Cuba’s red, white and blue colors – and one showed a bulge on his left hip in an indication that he may have been fitted with a colostomy bag.
The report says the U.S. officials believe Castro may not last through 2007, and would live up to 18 months if he undergoes chemotherapy, and three to eight months without it.