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Castro Is Optimistic, Yet Warns of 'Adverse News'

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Debbie Elliott.

Cuban President Fidel Castro is celebrating his 80th birthday today as he recovers from intestinal surgery that forced him to cede power to his brother Raul two weeks ago. To mark the occasion, the Communist youth newspaper published photographs of the Cuban leader, accompanied by a statement in which Castro warns he has a long recovery ahead, and that the Cuban people should be prepared for bad news.

Chicago Tribune reporter Gary Marx(ph) is in Havana and joins us on the line. His statement today had somewhat of an optimistic tone. He said he was happy and that his health was improving, yet he's warning the Cuban people to prepare for adverse news. What do you think he's saying here?

Mr. GARY MARX (Reporter, Chicago Tribune): Well, you know, I think this is pretty much what Fidel has said in public. I mean his initial statement the day after he, you know, he announced that he had had surgery was essentially saying, listen, I'm improving but prepare yourself for bad news.

So on the one hand he's striking an optimistic tone, saying he expects to come back and he expects to recuperate. But on the other hand, I think he's leaving the door open, saying to Cubans, listen, you know, I may not be around that long, but regardless of what happens to me, the revolution is going to continue. And that's really the message the Cubans are trying to send to the Cuban people.

ELLIOTT: These were the first published photographs of Fidel Castro since his health problems led him to step aside last month. How did he look?

Mr. MARX: I mean I think - how did he look to me? On the one hand I think he looked tired and he looked worn, but he sure didn't look like a person who was facing death. I mean he's looking straight into the camera. You know, his eyes are just fixated on the camera and he looked to be okay.

I think the Cubans also sort of had a mixed impression. Some said they thought he looked good, but others said that he - they felt that he had deteriorated quite a bit and were very concerned about whether or not he could actually return to power like he had in the past.

ELLIOTT: What did they think of his statement today?

Mr. MARX: Again, I think it just depends on sort of what side you're on in the debate here. I mean I think that government supporters tend to look on it, you know, on the bright side of it, saying, you know, it appears like he's going to come back, the revolution's going to continue, etcetera, etcetera. And I think people here really hoping for change sort of thought that, well, maybe this is the beginning of the end of Fidel Castro and maybe there is possibly an opening for change.

ELLIOTT: Now, Raul Castro made his first public appearance today as Cuba's interim president. What was he doing?

Mr. MARX: Well, he actually went to the airport today and met with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Chavez announced last night in Venezuela or yesterday afternoon that he was coming here to celebrate Fidel's 80th birthday, to wish him the best, to bring him a nice cake. So it was really a perfect opportunity for Raul to appear in public.

There was no voice - I mean there was no sound to it. Basically there was just a video clip that ran on the 1:00 o'clock news on Cuban television.

ELLIOTT: Chicago Tribune reporter Gary Marx in Havana. Thanks so much.

Mr. MARX: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR National Correspondent Debbie Elliott can be heard telling stories from her native South. She covers the latest news and politics, and is attuned to the region's rich culture and history.

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