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Posted August 14, 2006 by publisher in Cuba Human Rights

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ABC News | Marc Frank

Mark Franck is a reporter for Reuters and lives in Havana.

As I stared into Fidel Castro’s bloodshot eyes, his right hand on my shoulder for support, his face just a few inches from mine, I thought, “He is going to work himself to death within five years.”

It wasn’t that the Cuban president was in poor health for 75 years of age. Quite the contrary: He had just spoken to a meeting of area economists from 9 p.m the previous evening to 3 a.m. on Sept. 21, 2002. Then, he had chatted a few hours with the left-leaning participants, posing for photos, talking earnestly, joking.

Fidel emerged into the hallway of Havana’s convention center still on his feet as dawn broke. He was disheveled, exhausted, his gray hair going every which way.

“If he pushes the envelope every day like this, how long can a man his age last, even if he is Fidel Castro,” went through my mind.

It’s been almost five years. Castro marked his 80th birthday Sunday, recovering from an operation for abdominal bleeding caused by overwork that nearly accomplished what his foes have desperately tried to do for close to half a century.

A message and four photos in the paper assured Cubans he was alive, the first visual proof since his hand-over of power to brother, Raul Castro, two weeks ago.

Five years ago, a few of us had hung around for nine hours in hopes of that rare chance of talking with the legendary figure.

“The hurricane, are you going,” a colleague shouted, capturing his attention as he walked away.

Hurricane Isidore swirled across Cuba’s sparsely populated western tip 100 miles to the west.

Castro wearily turned and walked over to let us know he was indeed on his way at that very moment.

“And the other hurricane,” I shouted.

He turned my way and asked, “What other hurricane?”

Hundreds of Americans were expected the next week in Havana for an agricultural trade show, the first such event since the 1959 revolution. U.S. food sales to Cuba for cash had just begun under an exception to the trade embargo.

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