Cuba's Fidel Castro gives new details of illness that forced him from power

HAVANA (AP) — Fidel Castro has given new details of just how sick he was when he was forced to give up power four years ago, saying in a rare interview that he was weak, dangerously thin and thought at times he could not go on.

"I was at death's door, but I came back," the former Cuban leader told the left-leaning Mexican daily La Jornada in an interview published Monday — one of the most extensive he's granted since stepping down four years ago. His younger brother Raul now leads the country, though Fidel remains head of the Communist Party.

The elder Castro burst back on the scene in July after nearly four years in the shadows, using frequent appearances to warn that a conflict pitting the United States and Israel against Iran has taken the world to the brink of nuclear war.

The 84-year-old has spoken to journalists with the heavily controlled Cuban state media, but only once before sat down with foreign reporters — an Aug. 8 round-table with a Venezuelan news team in which he said he doubted a dispute between Venezuela and Colombia would develop into a shooting war.

In the five-hour interview with La Jornada's editor, Castro said that during the illness his weight fell to 145 pounds (66 kilograms) — extremely thin for a man thought to be about 6-foot-3 (190 centimeters) and known for his large frame — but that he is now back up to 190 pounds (86 kilograms).

"I couldn't aspire to live any longer, much less anything else," Castro said. "I asked myself several times if these people (the doctors) would let me live under these conditions or whether they would allow me to die."

The government has never said officially what Castro was suffering from when he fell ill in July 2006, though it was widely reported to have been complications involving diverticulitis, an intestinal ailment common in older people. He has said in the past that he underwent several surgeries and mentioned that again in the La Jornada interview.

Castro was treated in an undisclosed location and vanished from public view, though he has kept up a steady stream of opinion columns throughout. Since his re-emergence last month, Castro has looked healthy if sometimes frail. His voice seems to gain strength as he talks.

In the interview, Castro described lying in a hospital room during the illness, hooked up to machines, and wondering how long it would be before his suffering would be over.

"Laid out in that bed, I could only see what was around me, machines I did not understand," Castro said. "I didn't know how long this torment would continue. The only thing I could hope for was that the world would stop."

"But I recovered," he added, proudly.

Castro said when he did get better he was in terrible shape, but that in the intervening years he has steadily gained strength to the point where he can now walk long distances unaided.

"Today, I managed to take 600 steps, without a cane or any help," Castro boasted.