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Looking healthier, he talks of duty; reaction skeptical in South Florida

Castro on TV for 50 minutes

Looking healthier, he talks of duty; reaction skeptical in South Florida
By Doreen Hemlock
Havana Bureau
Posted June 6 2007

HAVANA · For the first time since he took ill last summer, Fidel Castro
appeared in an extended interview broadcast Tuesday on Cuban television,
looking healthier than in earlier clips and commenting about a host of
topics from Vietnam to renewable energy.

Dressed in a blue and white Adidas track suit, with a Cuban flag on his
chest, Castro spoke for about 50 minutes with the host of a Cuban
government TV talk show. Though his speech was slow and his voice
sometimes faded, the 80-year-old read without glasses from a booklet,
raised his arms and pointed his fingers animatedly and told viewers the
conversation was "the first" in what may be a string of TV broadcasts.

"I'm fulfilling my duty," the gray-haired, bearded former revolutionary
told Mesa Redonda talk show host Randy Alonso in an interview taped
Monday. "I keep doing what I have to do."

Castro has been recovering since late July from a series of intestinal
operations for what is widely believed to be diverticular disease, in
which sacs form in the colon and can become inflamed and bleed. He ceded
power temporarily July 31 to his brother and long-time defense minister,
Raul Castro.

Many Cubans tuned into Tuesday's broadcast to see the man who has guided
the Caribbean nation since 1959.

"I'm happy to see that he's much better," said Lazara Molina, 47, a
housewife sitting on the stoop of her building in Old Havana after the
broadcast. "For me, the commander is everything. Without him, we're nobody."

An independent economist and political dissident, Oscar Espinosa Chepe,
said Castro seemed to have gained weight. But he also looked tired and
jumped from topic to topic as if "sometimes he were a bit lost,"
Espinosa Chepe said.

Castro spoke at length about Vietnam, after the weekend visit of the
Communist Party chief of that booming Asian nation. He recalled his 1973
visit to the country during the Vietnam War, saying he was so hot and
sweated so much "it was like being in a swimming pool with your clothes
on. … And with global warming, I can't even imagine now."

In South Florida, Spanish-language radio and TV stations carried
excerpts from the interview. Some commentators characterized the
conversation as a monologue, rather than a press report. They pointed to
the softball questions asked of Castro as a reminder of tight controls
on the media in Cuba.

Many South Florida residents said they saw Castro as too physically weak
to lead the country.

"He's out of the picture. Mentally he's not all there," said Rafael
Perez, the Cuban-American owner of Havana Restaurant, in West Palm
Beach. "He looks lost."

Mercedes Garcia watched Castro's interview in the living room of her
Royal Palm Beach home.

"He talks but says nothing," she said. "His speech was blurred and his
gaze lost for moments. What he said didn't make sense."

On the Spanish-language TV talk show A Clean Hand, which ran right after
the interview, neurologist Jorge Herrera rejected reports that Castro's
health seems much improved. "Mentally, a lot of things are missing,"
Herrera said. "I don't know if he remembers what he ate before the
interview."

Castro spoke from an undisclosed location seated on an orange chair
across the table from the talk show host. His whereabouts have not been
released, though he insisted there are no secrets here."

Staff Writers Ruth Morris in Miami and Paola Iuspa-Abbott in Palm Beach
contributed to this report.

Doreen Hemlock can be reached at dhemlock@sun-sentinel.com.

http://www.sun-sentinel.com/news/local/cuba/sfl-acuba06jun06,0,2284702.story?coll=sfla-news-cuba

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