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CIA says Castro has Parkinson's disease

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-11-17T013356Z_01_MCC676343_RTRUKOC_0_US-CUBA-USA-CASTRO.xml CIA says Castro has
    Message 1 of 1 , Nov 16, 2005
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      http://today.reuters.com/news/newsArticle.aspx?type=topNews&storyID=2005-11-17T013356Z_01_MCC676343_RTRUKOC_0_US-CUBA-USA-CASTRO.xml

      CIA says Castro has Parkinson's disease
      Wed Nov 16, 2005 8:34 PM ET165

      By David Morgan

      WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The CIA has concluded that
      Cuban President Fidel Castro suffers from Parkinson's
      disease and could have difficulty coping with the
      duties of office as his condition worsens, an official
      said on Wednesday.

      The assessment, completed in recent months, suggests
      the nonfatal but debilitating disease has progressed
      far enough to warrant questions among U.S.
      policymakers about the communist country's future in
      the next several years.

      "The assessment is that he has the disease and that
      his condition has progressed. There appear to be more
      outward signs," said an official who is familiar with
      the assessment.

      Bush administration officials and members of Congress
      have already been briefed on the findings about
      Castro. The Cuban leader, 79, has been in power on the
      island of 11 million people since leading a 1959
      revolution and has long been at ideological odds with
      Washington.

      But U.S. diplomats played down the significance of any
      CIA assessment and said they were not using such
      intelligence to make policy decisions about Castro or
      Cuba.

      "Do we see him losing his grip over the country? No,"
      said a State Department official, who asked not to be
      named because he was discussing intelligence
      conclusions. "We are not in any way adapting how we
      plan for the day Castro is gone based on an assessment
      that he might have Parkinson's."

      The CIA based its assessment on a variety of evidence,
      including observations of Castro's public appearances
      and the opinions of doctors employed by the espionage
      agency.

      "If the assessment is correct, you could expect there
      to be effects on his ability to come to grips with
      fresh challenges over the next several years," said
      the U.S. official who has seen the CIA report. He
      spoke on condition of anonymity because the document
      is classified.

      "It could have implications for the way Castro
      functions, and by natural course, the way the Cuban
      government functions," the official added.

      HISTORY OF RUMORS

      Cuban officials declined to comment on the CIA
      assessment. They insisted Castro was in good health
      when he failed to show up at a summit of
      Ibero-American leaders in Spain in October.

      Castro has long been the subject of rumors of
      illnesses including Parkinson's, despite a generally
      strong physical constitution. Many of the reports up
      to now have come from the anti-communist Cuban
      American community in Florida.

      Castro has dismissed them as the work of his enemies
      who wish to see him dead. In a recent television
      interview with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona,
      Castro joked the rumors were so many that the day he
      died, nobody would believe it.

      The Cuban leader's pace has slowed noticeably since
      tumbling to the floor after a speech a year ago. But
      his stamina appears unabated and he still gives long
      speeches.

      Castro's brother Raul, head of the armed forces, has
      been designated as his successor and the Cuban leader
      has said that he expects Cuba's political system to
      outlive him.

      "If it's true and he does have it, then it's still an
      open question anyway as to how much it might --
      somewhere further in the future -- affect how he runs
      Cuba. So we would not use this kind of conclusion to
      inform our policymaking, anyway," the State Department
      official said of the CIA assessment.

      Cuba and the United States have no diplomatic
      relations and Washington imposed an economic embargo
      on Havana 43 years ago.

      Parkinson's is a chronic, irreversible disease that
      affects about 1 percent of people over the age of 65
      worldwide. Among notable sufferers are actor Michael
      J. Fox, boxing legend Mohammad Ali and former U.S.
      Attorney General Janet Reno.

      The Miami Herald, which originally reported the CIA
      assessment on Wednesday, said Castro could be entering
      a period in which medicines are less effective and
      mental functions start to deteriorate.

      But the newspaper said Cuba analysts fear the
      possibility of a tumultuous period during which an
      incapacitated Castro refuses to give up power but can
      no longer lead.

      In October 2004 when Castro tripped and broke his left
      knee and right arm after a speech, he refused
      tranquilizers and general anesthetic during a
      three-hour operation, telling Cubans he was fully in
      command of government affairs.

      He has dismissed reports of illnesses ranging from
      stroke and brain hemorrhage to heart attack and
      hypertensive encephalopathy.

      (Additional reporting by Saul Hudson in Washington and
      Michael Christie in Miami)
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