SAN FRANCISCO – U.S. intelligence officials believe that Cuban President Fidel Castro has terminal cancer and will not return to power, despite statements by that country’s government that he will return to his post once he recovers from the abdominal surgery he had in July, according to a report in Time magazine.

“Certainly we have heard this, that this guy has terminal cancer,” said one U.S. official.

Castro on July 31 released a statement saying that the surgery to stop intestinal bleeding, “obliges me to spend several weeks in repose, away from my responsibilities as leader.”

Yet the fact that Castro’s brother, Raul, 75, is still serving as acting president has some in the intelligence community believing that the Cuban government wanted Fidel Castro, 79, off the public stage before his death to gauge public reaction to his absence.

Time cited several recent developments that it called “signs of Raul’s increasing prominence,” including delivering his first televised national speech and hosting a “high-profile” meeting of the country’s local, provisional and national leadership.

Still, U.S. intelligence reports regarding Cuba have been wrong repeatedly during the 47 years that Castro has been in power, going all the way back to flawed assessments of opposition support that led to the disastrous Bay of Pigs invasion in 1960.

Just this week, Cuban Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said of Castro’s return, “We will again have him leading the revolution,” Time reported, citing the Communist Party daily newspaper Granma.

Cuban sources say that preparations continue for a belated but elaborate celebration of Fidel Castro’s 80th birthday on Dec. 2, Time reported.

(c) 2006, Inc.

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Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.


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

AP-NY-10-07-06 1731EDT

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