CARACAS, Venezuela, Dec 15 - Cuban leader Fidel Castro does not have cancer,
but is fighting a "great battle" against a "very serious" illness, Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez said on Friday.
In the most extensive account of Castro's condition following weeks of rumors
that he has cancer or is even dead, Chavez said he remained optimistic and that
his close ally had been in good spirits when they spoke by telephone on
"Some comments have come out, that Fidel has a terminal cancer -- Fidel does
not have cancer," Chavez told supporters in a celebration of his December 3
"We know you are fighting a great battle," he said, adding that what happened
to Fidel was "very serious."
Castro, a close ally of Chavez, temporarily stepped aside in July following
intestinal surgery after maintaining more than four decades of resistance to
Washington and inspiring a generation of anti-U.S. activists throughout Latin
Castro has skipped recent public public appearances including his 80th
birthday celebration, and appeared frail and walking with difficulty in video
images released in October.
Chavez did not say Castro's health was improving, as he has repeated in
recent speeches, but said he was optimistic about his recovery.
"I'm going to send him some chocolate, he likes Venezuelan chocolate," Chavez
said. "He's eating, little by little he's feeding himself. We have a lot of
faith that those 80 years will become 90, 100 years."
He said last week Castro had not called to congratulate him on his
re-election, sending instead a typewritten letter rather than his usual
Before his surgery, Castro had clung to control over the communist enclave
since a 1959 revolution despite a strict U.S. embargo in place since 1962.
U.S. Intelligence chief John Negroponte said in an interview with the
Washington Post published on Friday that Castro was near death and had "months,
not years" to live.
Chavez, leader of a resurgent Latin American left and heir apparent to
Castro's legacy of anti-U.S. activism, has helped undercut the U.S. embargo by
providing low-cost oil from Venezuela's bountiful oil fields.
Chavez on Friday unveiled plans to unite numerous parties that support him
into a single socialist party, which critics call a sign Chavez wants to follow
in Castro's footsteps.
Like Castro in previous years, Chavez harshly criticizes the United States as
a decadent empire. He called U.S. President George W. Bush "the devil" in a
speech at the United Nations in New York.