Is Castro 'In Charge' While Recovering From Surgery?

One of Cuban President Fidel Castro's closest collaborators has told ABC News the legendary revolutionary is once more calling in officials for meetings, discussing issues with them on the phone and following world and domestic events as doctors keep a watch on his recovery from abdominal surgery nine months ago.

"I spoke with somebody who was meeting with him yesterday afternoon, for example, and he told me Fidel called him and he had to be there with him at 5 p.m.," Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban parliament and long-time member of Castro's kitchen cabinet, told ABC's Bob Woodruff in Havana.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Castro's closest ally, said on Sunday that Castro was back "in charge" of Cuba. Nevertheless, Alarcon said Castro was mostly using the phone to convey instructions and holding fewer meetings than before his surgery for an undisclosed ailment.

"He has to follow a process of recovery that the doctors try to control very keenly," said Alarcon. "He has been very disciplined in terms of concentrating on his recovery, exercising, you know, having check ups or whatever, and reading a lot."

Woodruff is in Havana on his first international assignment since recovering from an Iraq roadside bombing that almost took his life in January 2006. His reporting team includes cameraman Doug Vogt and sound technician Magnus de Macedo, the same crew that was with him in Iraq the day Woodruff was critically injured by the improvised explosive device.

His reports leading up to Cuba's traditional International Workers Day march on Tuesday, when it is expected Castro might appear in public for the first time in nine months, will air beginning Sunday evening.

"Will [Fidel] be there this May Day? I don't have any information that you will be satisfied on that," Alarcon said.

"Of course, he is entitled to, if he feels okay ... but I don't know," Alarcon added with a laugh. "I am not prepared to confirm or deny."

Cuba's Pulse

Woodruff, while waiting with everyone else for Fidel Castro to appear, has been busy taking the pulse of the Communist-run Caribbean island that has begun an inevitable weaning from his 47-year rule.

Fidel's younger brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, has been acting president since last August, bringing with him a more pragmatic and less rhetorical style of leadership.

The younger Castro, 75, has lambasted bureaucrats for skirting the truth and told them to focus on transportation, housing, and other problems. Raul has also called on youth to be more critical of the country's shortcomings, though various officials and economists said change would be gradual and fine tuned to Cuba's history and current international situation.

"We are taking a hard look at our economy and those of other socialist countries like China, but we will not follow their model, or any model that is not our own," said economist Omar Everleny, deputy director of Havana University's Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy.

Alarcon said Cuba was just as much trying to learn more from other countries in Latin America such as Brazil, Argentina, Venezuela and Bolivia, as from China.

Terrorism a Hot Issue

Last week's release on bail in the United States of Cuban exile Luis Posada Carriles has sparked anger among many Cubans and charges from the government here that the U.S. applies a dual standard in the war on terror.

Posada, who worked for the CIA in the 1960s, is a suspect in the 1976 bombing of a Cuban commercial airliner, killing all 73 aboard. He has admitted being behind a string of bombings at Cuban tourist locations in 1997 and various attempts on Fidel Castro's life.

Posada was arrested almost two years ago in Miami for illegally entering the country and later charged with lying to authorities. He was released to home custody in Miami until his next hearing May 11, in Texas.

Cuba is demanding the Bush administration extradite Posada to Venezuela, where he is a naturalized citizen, or to Cuba, to face terrorism charges, or try him in the U.S.

"It's like saying, oh, Pakistan has found Osama bin Laden, without a visa, and he is being accused and being sent to jail on immigration violations. I doubt the American people would stand for that," Alarcon said.