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By Anthony Boadle | Reuters

Cuban leader Fidel Castro has confirmed his recovery from life-threatening surgery in a long television interview, but many Cubans believe he may be too old and weak to return to power.

With his beard grayer and speaking slower than before his illness, the 80-year-old Castro said nothing about his future in his first lengthy television appearance in 10 months.

Raul Castro, who has been standing in as president since July 31, said his elder brother looked “magnificent” in the interview, which aired on Tuesday night.

“Now I will start working less,” the low-profile Raul Castro joked to reporters on Wednesday at the opening of a Canadian-built plant to generate electricity with gas near Havana.

Ordinary Cubans doubt whether the 80-year-old Fidel Castro, who took power in a 1959 revolution, has the strength to run the country or even give one of his famous long speeches again.

“He is too old to go on. He has lived through too much. It is time he handed over to Raul,” said Sabina, the manager of a government store selling U.S. rice, Argentine black beans and Brazilian sugar at heavily subsidized prices.

“He is going to be 81. If he wants to live, he’ll have to let go of the reins of power, otherwise he will not last long,” said Carmen Vallejo, who works with children with cancer.

Vallejo said Castro’s appearance was met with indifference by Cubans more concerned with the daily grind of economic survival in the communist state.

“The government has lost credibility. There is food but no money. There is theft and black market corruption everywhere, and little hope of change on the horizon,” she said.

NO PUBLIC APPEARANCE

Castro was forced to hand over power temporarily after he was rushed to hospital with intestinal bleeding after a speech on July 26.

He underwent several operations and was reportedly close to death late last year. His illness was a state secret but it is widely thought to have been diverticulitis, or inflamed bulges in the large intestine aggravated by a stressful lifestyle.

Castro has not appeared in public since falling ill. But he has gradually returned to public life by writing a series of articles on world issues, mainly attacking his ideological foe, the U.S. government.

Castro spent most of the 52-minute interview on Tuesday night talking about Vietnam and his visit to Hanoi in 1973 in the midst of the war with the United States.

Most analysts believe the ageing revolutionary, the last major Cold War player still around, will settle into the role of elder statesman to be consulted on major policy issues while legitimizing his younger brother’s administration.

Castro’s supporters were heartened by the obvious improvement in his health, but critics believe his return to public life could stifle a nascent debate on economic and social reforms that Raul Castro has encouraged.

“Fidel Castro’s appearance will slow the whole process of reform and intellectual debate that was starting up,” said dissident Manuel Cuesta Morua.

Castro has become irrelevant to the daily lives of Cubans, said Cuesta Morua, who said he was surprised to see many television sets switched off during Tuesday’s interview.

“He is talking about things that have little to do with Cuban reality today,” he said.