Sunday, December 19, 2010

2006 cable: Fidel Castro "lively," in better health than Raul

This cable, written before Fidel Castro fell ill in July 2006, said described the Comandante as "lively," but said Raul Castro was wearing a back brace and his wife, Vilma Espin, was near death.

Reference ID Created Released Classification Origin
06HAVANA8633 2006-04-20 20:08 2010-12-16 21:09 CONFIDENTIAL US Interests Section Havana

VZCZCXRO9804
PP RUEHAO RUEHCD RUEHGA RUEHGD RUEHHA RUEHHO RUEHMC RUEHNG RUEHNL
RUEHQU RUEHRD RUEHRG RUEHRS RUEHTM RUEHVC
DE RUEHUB #8633/01 1102006
ZNY CCCCC ZZH
P 202006Z APR 06
FM USINT HAVANA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5744
INFO RUEHWH/WESTERN HEMISPHERIC AFFAIRS DIPL POSTS
RUEHSK/AMEMBASSY MINSK
RUEHMO/AMEMBASSY MOSCOW
RUCOWCV/CCGDSEVEN MIAMI FL
RUESDM/JTLO MIAMI FL
RHEHNSC/NSC WASHDC
RUMIAAA/USCINCSO MIAMI FL

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 HAVANA 008633

SIPDIS

SIPDIS, INR

E.O. 12958: DECL: 04/19/2016
TAGS: PGOV PINR ECON SOCI CU
SUBJECT: "IF YOU DON'T HAVE YOUR HEALTH..." (AILMENTS AMONG
THE CASTRO CLAN)

REF: A. HAVANA 8017
¶B. HAVANA 7324

Classified By: MICHAEL E. PARMLY FOR REASONS 1.4 b/d

¶1. (C) Summary: Castro has reduced his public profile
since February, but rumors of debilitating ill health are
unfounded. Russian officials who met with him last week
described Castro as "lively." In contrast, Raul Castro
wears a back brace and appears to be in worse physical
condition than his elder brother. Rumors are running wild
that Vilma Espin, Raul Castro's wife, is near death and
that a grand burial is in preparation. (Vilma is a
prominent figurehead, and her death will be treated with
the solemnity accorded to a revolutionary commander.)
Eusebio Leal, the "Mayor" of Old Havana, has also been ill
for some time, but recently appeared publicly at a
diplomatic reception and art show. End Summary.

Castro (Relatively) Quiet
-------------------------

¶2. (C) Castro watchers note the Comandante has ramped down
public speeches since his last marathon presentation on
January 19-21 (three nights of television appearances to
discuss the "Year of the Energy Revolution") (ref A).
Other than an appearance on the evening talk show "The
Round Table" excoriating Posada Carriles and the U.S.
Interests Section, Castro's speech topics have been low
key: Information technology (before a visibly bored
student audience); primary education; sports; the 44th
anniversary of the Union of Communist Youth; and last
night's commemoration of the Battle of Giron (Bay of
Pigs).

¶3. (C) Castro does not appear to have met with Nation of
Islam leader Farrukhan during his April visit (ref B),
though he has feted other "luminaries" -- for example, he
presented the Jose Marti Prize to Hugo Chavez on February
¶3. Today, April 20, Castro is expected to receive
visiting Belarusian Prime Minister Sergey Sidorskiy.

¶4. (C) Castro's relatively subdued public profile
initially sparked (once again) rumors of ill health, but
they are unfounded. Russian officials at a signing
ceremony for the purchase of five passenger aircraft last
week spent several hours with Castro and described him as
"lively and lucid." Other foreign visitors have made
similar observations. Instead, Castro's low profile may
have been encouraged by nervous Castro aides looking to
"turn down the volume" in expectation of hot weather,
associated power outages and an irritated populace (ref
B). Castro spent so many successive nights on TV during
the hot summer of 2005 with its interminable power
shortages that the Cuban public began to ridicule him
openly, demanding a more dependable electrical current -
along with their prime time sports and soap operas.

¶5. (C) In contrast to his elder brother, Raul Castro is
ageing badly. Japanese Ambassador Iwata told COM that
conversations with regime insiders indicate the younger
brother is in worse physical shape than Fidel. According
to Iwata, Raul wears a back brace almost constantly at
present, and is reportedly in serious pain much of the
time from an undisclosed ailment.

Vespers for Vilma
-----------------

¶6. (C) Even worse off is Raul's wife, Vilma Espin Guillois
de Castro, who is reportedly on her death bed. USINT
officials have heard the rumor that she was dead or near
death from five sources, and two of whom went so far as to
suggest that Espin was already dead and being kept "on
ice" until after (or perhaps during) the GOC's May Day
celebrations. On the other hand, Reuters journalist Marc
Frank said Espin has been ill for some time and had called
her friends up to a year ago to bid a final adieu. It
seems Vilma has spent a long time "on her death bed."

¶7. (C) In any event, Vilma's departure from the scene will
be a significant event for the GOC. According to Frank,
her funeral will serve as a useful "trial run" for the big
day (Fidel's death). Dissident Martha Beatriz Roque heard
a grand burial site was under preparation in Holguin
Province.

¶8. (C) Comment: Vilma Espin is a key public figure. She
is not only Raul's wife, but Fidel's ceremonial First Lady
and Head of the Cuban Women's Federation. She is not,
however, a political power and has served mostly as a
shining example of womanly revolutionary values (similar
to "Mother of the Revolution" Celia Sanchez, who died in
1980). More relevant female figures in the GOC include
Maria del Carmen Concepcion, a regional leader in Pinar
del Rio, and Minister of Basic Industries Yadira Garcia.
End Comment.

Eusebio's Illness
-----------------

¶9. (C) Eusebio Leal, the so-called "Mayor of Old Havana,"
has been rumored to be sick (possibly with diabetes) for
some time. A Dutch hotel manager reported that
restoration projects in Old Havana had stalled as a
result. A Cuban project manager for Habaguanex (Leal's
organization), confirmed Leal's illness to P/E officer but
denied that restoration in Old Havana had suffered. She
said the projects had been going on long enough that
Leal's staff was perfectly capable of running the show.
(Comment: This might be true in the short run, but Leal is
both the brains and the political brawn behind the
restoration of Old Havana and his influence with Castro is
exceptional. End Comment.) Despite his ill health, Leal
attended a Mexican diplomatic reception and art show
earlier this week and did not betray any obvious frailties
other than some weight loss and a display of his well-
established short temper - he was seen berating two
subordinates after the Mexican event.
PARMLY

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