Chavez says Castro not dying

Dec. 16, 2006 at 9:51 AM

HAVANA, Dec. 16 (UPI) -- Fidel Castro is not close to death, said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close Castro ally who said he spoke with the Cuban leader.

Chavez did, however, admitted the 80-year-old Castro was very ill, the BBC reported Saturday. He also denounced speculation in Washington that Castro has cancer.

U.S. Director of National Intelligence John Negroponte said this week that Castro had only months to live, The Washington Post reported.

Earlier this year Castro underwent gastro-intestinal surgery for an undisclosed illness. The Cuban president appointed his brother Raul interim leader, though it appears likely that Fidel will never return to power.

Chavez's and Negroponte's dueling assertions on the health and well-being of Fidel Castro came amid a visit to Cuba by a group of 10 U.S. congressmen who favor easing the embargo on Cuba.

The bipartisan group of lawmakers will reportedly meet with senior Cuban officials, though it is unclear whether they will talk with Raul Castro.

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