Veil Slowly Lifting Over Castro Mystery

Five months into one of the most bizarre episodes in modern Cuba's history, the veil is slowly lifting over what ails the world's longest-ruling head of state, President Fidel Castro.

A Spanish surgeon who examined the famous rebel just days ago told a press conference in Madrid, Spain, Tuesday that Castro does not have cancer and could still play a role in the Caribbean island's future.

"He is in good condition. Within the confines of doctor-patient privilege, I can say President Castro is not suffering from a malignant condition," Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, head of surgery at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon public hospital, told a news conference after returning from Cuba.

"It's a benign process, during which there have been a series of complications," he said, without elaborating.

The doctor flew to Havana last Thursday to consult with Castro's medical team and to evaluate his condition.

Garcia Sabrido said Castro did not need further surgery but required physical therapy, a strict diet and rest. He said that Castro's mental faculties were intact.

"He asks every day to return to work, but doctors advise him not to, to take it easy," the doctor said.

The 80-year-old Castro has not been seen in public since he took ill on July 26. Castro's condition, and even where he is, has been treated as a state secret even as officials have insisted he does not have cancer and would recover.

During the first few months of his recovery the government released occasional photos and videos of Castro, often meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The last video was released October 28 and showed a weakened Castro, leading to speculation that his health was deteriorating.

It is difficult to find another example in modern history where the whereabouts and condition of an ailing head of state have been kept secret for so long.

The bizarre situation and distrust of communist authorities led the United States and many other governments to speculate that Castro was dying of cancer.

Garcia Sabrido said Castro, far from dying, could govern Cuba again.

"Yes, if his recovery is complete, yes," said Garcia Sabrido, a digestive system specialist.

Castro came to a power in a 1959 revolution and has proved the nemeses of 10 U.S. presidents, surviving repeated attempts to overthrow or kill him.

Garcia Sabrido's statement on Tuesday is sure to boost speculation among some medical experts that Castro could be suffering from a deterioration of his colon, not cancer.

The condition is fairly common among the aged, experts say, and can lead to seepage and contamination of the abdominal cavity, an emergency that requires surgery and often results in death, as the operation requires both stopping the leakage and then cleaning and sterilizing the entire abdominal cavity.

Cuba's state-run media had yet to comment on Tuesday on the Spanish doctor's visit and pronouncements, which were important news around the globe.

Acting president, Defense Minister Raul Castro, Fidel Castro's younger brother at 75 years old, said as recently as Friday that Fidel was recovering.

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