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Posted October 26, 2004 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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By Nancy San Martin | Miami Herald

Cuban President Fidel Castro will have to cut back on his duties, but few think he will give up any political control over the country.

President Fidel Castro will likely be off his feet for several weeks recovering from a fractured knee and arm, but experts said Friday they don’t expect the 78-year-old Cuban ruler to delegate any authority beyond ceremonial duties.

Castro’s determination to remain in control became abundantly clear in a lengthy letter he sent to ‘‘compatriots’’ and was read by radio and TV broadcasters and published in state-controlled newspapers on Friday.

‘‘From the moment of the fall, I have not stopped attending to the most important tasks that I am responsible for, in coordination with the other comrades,’’ he wrote. “I’m recovering well and will not lose contact with you.’’

Experts on Cuba said the letter was probably also intended to send a message to those who may have ambitions to replace the man who has ruled Cuba for 45 years.

‘‘so long as he is capable of making decisions, I don’t think he will open space for anyone, not even his brother,’’ said Alcibiades Hidalgo, a former Cuban ambassador to the United Nations and personal secretary to Castro’s younger brother and officially designated successor, Ral Castro.

‘‘And nobody would dare to solicit more political space,’’ added Hidalgo, who defected two years ago.

While older people can heal well from bone fractures, Castro can expect several weeks or even months before a complete recovery, which will likely require physical therapy, said Dr. Bruce Troen, a University of Miami geriatrician.

‘‘My bet is that he’s going to have significant impairment of his mobility and rehabilitative challenges,’’ Troen said. “This will require more than just getting up and walking. Even for vigorous 78-year-olds, it’s not so easy to hobble around on crutches and one leg.’‘

In his letter, Castro said his left kneecap shattered into eight pieces, requiring surgeons to reassemble it during an operation that lasted 3 hours. Doctors also immobilized his left upper arm, which suffered a hairline fracture.

Throughout the ordeal, Castro wrote, he used a cellphone to issue orders and refused general anesthesia so that he could “attend to numerous important issues.’‘

‘‘He refuses even to lose consciousness, losing power in effect, for even a few hours,’’ said Hans de Salas del Valle, a research associate at UM’s Institute for Cuban and Cuban-American Studies.

Should Castro become unfit to rule or dies, his 73-year-old brother would assume control, as outlined in Cuba’s constitution. Ral Castro heads Cuba’s armed forces and serves as first vice president to the Communist Party and powerful Council of State.

Beyond Ral Castro, there is no official designation in the presidential succession, and Cuba watchers said there are only a handful of officials who might fill a No. 3 spot. They include Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque, 39; Vice President Carlos Lage, 53; and National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon, 67.

Those are the faces likely to become more visible as Castro recuperates, said Edward Gonzlez, a Cuba expert and consultant at the Rand Corp., a California-based think tank.

‘‘There will be people stepping into more ceremonial roles,’’ Gonzlez said. “I doubt, however, that they’re going to do much else. Castro is going to keep a tight reign.’‘

‘‘They have to be very careful of not overstepping their boundaries,’’ he added. “Even communicating with each other could be considered a conspiracy to take over. Until Castro is flat on his back, can’t get up or he’s dead, they have to be very discreet.’’

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