Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe and Fidel Castro of Cuba. The two nations have a long record of solidarity and mutual cooperation.
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Castro reveals health details but return to power unknown
Fidel Castro said in an article published Thursday he was on the road to recovery, but the Cuban leader gave no indication of when or if he will return to power.
Sidelined by gastrointestinal surgery 10 months ago, 80-year-old Castro lifted the veil on his health woes for the first time, admitting that he actually went under the knife several times and was fed through a tube for several months.
Although the article, which was distributed ahead of publication, gave the most comprehensive detail yet about the medical procedures he endured, what sparked the health crisis that forced him to hand power temporarily to his brother and defense chief Raul in July remains a mystery.
"It was not just one operation but several," Castro wrote in the communist daily Granma. "Initially there was no success, and that resulted in the prolonged period of recovery."
Castro, who turns 81 on August 13, said his weight has stabilized at 80 kilograms (176 pounds) and that he is now eating solid foods.
"Today I receive orally everything my recuperation requires," he wrote. "During several months I received an important part of my food through the veins and catheters."
"No danger is larger than those related to aging," he said, adding that he "abused" his health "in the uncertain times during which I lived."
Castro, who came to power in the 1959 Cuban revolution, said he is dedicating the current phase of his recovery "especially to reflect and write on issues," that he believes "are of certain importance and transcendence."
Castro said in his 11th article in the past two months that he uses his time "to read, receive information, talk by phone with numerous comrades and carry out the pertinent rehabilitation exercises."
While the Cuban president has yet to appear publicly since giving up power, he has been seen in photographs and six videos, and has met with his friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other luminaries, including a top Chinese official on April 20.
But Castro, who last appeared in public on July 26, indicated that there might be even fewer images of him in the future.
"I do not have the time at the moment for videos and pictures that require me dressing up and constantly getting my hair, beard and mustache trimmed," he wrote. "Moreover, such displays increase the number of interview requests."
Out of public view, the loquacious communist stalwart has penned newspaper articles since March 29 to convey his thoughts, about half of them to criticize biofuels being promoted by his arch-nemesis, the United States.
Castro's latest article, titled "For Deaf People Who Do Not Want to Listen," focuses largely on biofuels again. But he gives no hint of when, or if, he would return to his duties.
The government has kept details of his health a state secret, although officials have regularly given upbeat updates about his recovery.
The secrecy surrounding his medical condition has sparked much speculation.
In January, the Spanish newspaper El Pais, citing sources close to doctors who examined him, said Castro had suffered life-threatening operations and infections resulting from diverticulitis, perforations of small pouches in the intestinal wall that weaken with age.
But a Spanish doctor who examined him in December, Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, later said Castro was improving and that the only truth about the report was that Castro underwent an operation and had suffered complications.
The communist stalwart, who has lived through 10 US presidents, has so far defied predictions from top US intelligence officials that his demise was coming soon.
In January, then US spy chief John Negroponte said "Castro's days or months seem to be numbered."
His successor, Michael McConnell, said a month later: "This year is likely to mark the end of Fidel Castro's domination of Cuba," although he warned that "positive change is unlikely immediately following his death."