Is Fidel Castro Gravely Ill?

(CBS)
Rumors that Cuban leader Fidel Castro is dead or close to death seem to surface every few months.

But a longtime Castro watcher in the intelligence community says the latest bout of rumors "smells a little different," reports CBS News' David Martin. The source says that they are coming in from so many different places that he gives more credence to them than usual.

CBS News' Portia Siegelbaum in Havana says that rumors have definitely increased during the past two weeks, fueled in particularly by remarks by Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who during a weekly radio and television address said Castro would never return to public life and but would "live on" beyond physical life.

The Miami Herald marshals further evidence of Castro's ill health. According to The Herald:

  • El País newspaper in Spain reported Wednesday that there were apparent movements at the Armed Forces and Interior Ministries Friday after Castro suffered a "possible'' heart attack. Another Spain-based web site, Cubaecuentro.com, reported that his condition was ''irreversible."

  • "High sources in Washington are saying that reliable sources have said that he has taken gravely ill," said University of Miami's Andy Gomez, who serves as an advisor to the U.S. Task Force on Cuba, an arm of the Brookings Institution think tank comprised of academics and former diplomats. "They are monitoring this very closely, including looking for additional movements of security and troops. So far, none of this has happened."

  • Castro has been absent from public view for more than two years and has stopped writing a regular published commentary.

    On the other hand Siegelbaum and a Herald source both report talking to high-level Cuban officials and hearing nothing to indicate that the rumors are true.

    "He sounded relaxed, and was switching TV channels between Hillary testimony and Chavez State of the Union," Siegelbaum writes. "I mentioned the turmoil in Miami and he expressed surprise that they would 'so misunderstand' what Chavez said."

    Both Siegelbaum and Martin's intelligence source stress that there is no confirmation that Castro's situation is dire or that the Cuban government is making preparations for Castro's death.

    Siegelbaum adds that despite the frequent rumors of Castro's demise, when he really did fall gravely ill in July, 2006, "no one anywhere had the slightest idea."

    "There was a hermetically sealed circle around him and not until the government read an official statement from him did the world learn that his health was seriously impaired. There is no reason to think that any information will leak out now either," Siegelbaum writes.

    Perhaps more importantly, Castro handed power to his brother Raul after that bout with illness. The Herald reports that "government sources in Cuba have said that Castro remained in control as recently as October, even making calls and barking orders to high-level officials," but most reports place Raul Castro firmly in control.

    Fidel Castro's death, then, would be symbolically important, but would have little practical effect in Cuba.
    • Ken Millstone

      Ken Millstone is an assignment editor at CBSNews.com

    Comments

    CBSN Live

    pop-out
    Live Video

    Watch CBSN Live

    Watch CBS News anytime, anywhere with the new 24/7 digital news network. Stream CBSN live or on demand for FREE on your TV, computer, tablet, or smartphone.