U.S. lawmakers told Castro not dying

Sunday, December 17, 2006; 5:45 PM

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuban government officials say that leader Fidel Castro is not dying, does not have cancer, and will return to public life, U.S. Congress members visiting the communist country said on Sunday.

"We were told by government officials that he does not have cancer and his condition is not terminal," Rep. Jeff Flake, an Arizona Republican who led the delegation, told reporters.

"The party line is that Fidel is coming back. He does not have cancer," said Rep. Jane Harman, a California Democrat.

The congressional delegation, the largest to visit Cuba since Castro's 1959 revolution, was ending a three-day visit aimed at improving relations between Havana and Washington.

They did not get a requested meeting with acting President Raul Castro, who took over the government temporarily on July 31 after his brother had emergency intestinal surgery.

Castro, 80, has not been seen in public since then and his absence has fueled speculation that he is dying.

His closest ally, Venezuelan President Hugo, said on Friday that Castro does not have cancer, but is fighting a "great battle" against a "very serious" illness.

U.S. Intelligence chief John Negroponte said in an interview with The Washington Post published on Friday that Castro was near death and had "months, not years" to live.

The American legislators said they were told that with or without Fidel Castro, Cuba would continue to be a one-party communist state.

"Cuban officials made every effort to convince us that ... the potential demise and health issues of Fidel Castro do not change the nature of the government or the policies of this country," said Rep. Jerry Moran, a Kansas Republican.

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