U.S. continues to believe Castro is terminally ill

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WASHINGTON – U.S. officials are sticking to the belief that Fidel Castro is terminally ill, saying they doubt a Spanish doctor’s assertion that the Cuban leader doesn’t have cancer.

“The bottom line: He is terminally ill,” said Ross Feinstein, a spokesman for the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, the agency that coordinates the work of 16 U.S. intelligence-gathering centers.

Feinstein also said that last month’s statement by outgoing intelligence chief John Negroponte that Castro had “months, not years” to live still stood – but he carefully stayed away from using the word “cancer.”

U.S. officials have been claiming that Castro suffers from cancer, which prompted a denial by Spanish surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido after his trip to Havana last month to examine the Cuban leader.

The U.S. ambassador to Madrid, Eduardo Aguirre, told reporters Friday that Garcia Sabrido’s comments might have been part of a Cuban “propaganda” ploy.

The Spanish agency Garcia Sabrido works for says he is unavailable for comment. Aguirre, in Washington for a gathering of U.S. ambassadors to Europe, said he considered the doctor’s diagnosis suspicious, echoing similar claims that other U.S. officials have made before – but always in private.

“From what I’ve read (in media reports), a well-qualified doctor traveled a great distance to see a patient for a short period and tell us what he does not have,” said Aguirre, a Cuban American and former banker.

“I’m not sure if his visit was focused on a professional, medical angle or a propaganda angle,” he said. He later reiterated his belief that the Spanish doctor “had a good reputation” but “there was a propaganda aspect to this particular trip.”

Garcia Sabrido has said he had contacts with the island that go back many years and met with Fidel Castro for about 90 minutes last month. He said Castro had had “very grave” surgery and then suffered a series of complications that he declined to reveal. He insisted that Castro does not have cancer.

His was the first independent assessment of Castro’s health by a medical specialist since Cuba announced that the 80-year-old leader had undergone surgery for intestinal bleeding and temporarily handed power to his brother Raul on July 31.

Cuban government officials have refused all comment on the exact nature of Fidel Castro’s ailment. He has not been seen in public since July 26, and the government has released no videos or photographs of him since Oct. 28, when a frail-looking Castro was shown chatting and exercising.

The press office at the Council of Consumption and Health – the local Madrid government agency that runs the Gregorio Maranon hospital that employs Garcia Sabrido – said the doctor is not granting any more media interviews.



(c) 2007, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.

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ARCHIVE PHOTOS on MCT Direct (from MCT Photo Service, 202-383-6099): Castro

ARCHIVE GRAPHIC on MCT Direct (from MCT Graphics, 202-383-6064): 20061129 CUBA CASTRO

AP-NY-01-05-07 1725EST

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