HAVANA – The ailing Fidel Castro is not dying but is recovering from an illness, his younger brother and Cuba's acting president said Sunday in response to rumors that the leader was on his deathbed.
Raul Castro, who has been standing in for his brother since July 31, was responding to recent reports including one in Time magazine that said Castro apparently has terminal cancer. Castro is recovering from intestinal surgery but the lack of details from the Cuban government regarding the nature of his illness has sparked a number of rumors about his health.
"He is not dying like some of the press in Miami is saying," Raul Castro told a youth congress in Havana. "He is constantly getting better."
The younger Castro said Fidel has a telephone next to him "and he's using it more and more every day." He said he had a long working session with his brother just two days ago.
Fidel, 80, has not appeared publicly since July 26, and no new photographs of the leader have been released in three weeks. He was last shown receiving private visits by world leaders during the Nonaligned Movement summit in mid-September, which was hosted by Cuba.
In late September, the elder Castro did not meet with visiting Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov, whose two-day trip to Cuba marked the highest-level visit from Russia since President Vladimir Putin came to the island in 2000.
Last week, local media reported Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told Cubans that Castro will return to his post as maximum leader, but he did not say when.
"This takes time, but he's right there," Raul Castro said Sunday. "Little by little, he's working."
The acting president presided over the closing session of a state-sponsored youth congress, which brought together 900 schoolchildren aged 6 to 12 — an age group known as "pioneers" on the communist-run island.
The children gave their support to the ailing Castro in a message published Sunday on a government-run newspaper's Web site, saying his presence was felt at the event.
They also said they would defend the island's revolution against any assault by the U.S. government, calling President Bush and his supporters "cockroaches."
"To Bush and his followers, we say stop being foolish, and that they are truly a bunch of cockroaches," they said in their message. "Don't mess with us, because the pioneers are also ready to defend the Revolution."