09:23am 18th November 2005
Fidel Castro: Feeling ‘better than ever’
Cuban President Fidel Castro has dismissed a CIA assessment he is suffering from Parkinson’s disease as a fabrication by his US enemies who wish to see him dead.
“They say Castro has this or that illness. The last thing they invented is that I have Parkinson’s,” he said in a speech to University of Havana students.
The 79-year-old Cuban leader spoke for more than five hours standing at a lectern.
A recent analysis by the CIA concluded Castro had Parkinson’s and could have difficulty coping with the duties of office as his condition worsens, an official in Washington told Reuters.
The non-fatal but debilitating disease had progressed far enough to warrant questions among US policy-makers about the communist country’s future in the next several years, the official said.
Castro, the target of CIA assassination attempts after he seized power in a leftist revolution in 1959, said his long-time ideological enemies in Washington were now waiting for him to die of natural causes.
“They have killed me so many times,” he said, referring to frequent rumors about his health that originate in the United States, usually in the anti-communist Cuban exile community in Miami.
“They kill me every day. The day that I really die, nobody will believe me,” he joked in the speech marking the 60th anniversary of the day he began his university studies.
“I don’t care if I get Parkinson’s. The pope (John Paul II) had Parkinson’s and he spent years traveling around the world,” Castro added. The pontiff died in April at 84.
Castro said he was recovering from a fall in October 2004 in which he smashed his left knee and fractured his right arm.
“I work longer hours than before. I feel better than ever,” he said.
Castro’s pace has slowed noticeably since the fall but his stamina appears unabated and he regularly gives long, rambling speeches.
Uncertainty about his health and the political future of Cuba once he is gone was heightened by a brief fainting spell he suffered in June 2001 during a speech under scorching sun.
Castro’s younger brother Raul, head of the armed forces, has been designated as his successor and the Cuban leader has said he expects Cuba’s one-party political system to outlive him.
Cuba and the United States have no diplomatic relations and Washington imposed an economic embargo on Havana 43 years ago.
Parkinson’s is a chronic, irreversible disease that affects about one percent of people over the age of 65 worldwide.
Among notable sufferers are actor Michael J. Fox, boxing legend Muhammad Ali and former US Attorney General Janet Reno.