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Chavez: Castro 'fighting for his life,' progressing slowly

Story Highlights

• Venezuela's president tells officials in Brazil he spoke with Castro recently
• Chavez says Castro recognizes that his age, 80, makes recovery difficult
• Castro not seen in public since July, when he ceded power to his brother
• Spanish surgeon disputes report that Cuban leader is in grave condition
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RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (CNN) -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro is "fighting for his life," Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday.

Chavez, who said he spoke to Castro a few days ago by telephone, compared Castro's battle against a serious intestinal illness with the Cuban leader's time in the island's mountains heading the revolution against the Fulgencio Batista government.

"Fidel is again in the Sierra Maestra," Chavez said Friday in a speech to the state legislature in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.

"He's fighting for his life. We don't know; we want him to recover, and he continues progressing, although slowly."

Noting Castro's age, Chavez said that "he said it himself: the machine that they have to fix is 80 years old."

Castro has not been seen in public since before July 31, when he relinquished power to his brother Raul so that he could undergo intestinal surgery. The Cuban government has maintained secrecy about his condition.

Earlier this week, the Spanish newspaper El Pais quoted unnamed medical sources saying Castro was in grave condition. But a Spanish surgeon who visited Castro in December -- and who works at the same hospital as the sources -- said those reports were based on rumors and that Castro's condition shows "some progressive improvement."

"The only truthful parts of the newspaper's reports are the name of the patient, that he has been operated on, and that he has had complications. The rest is rumors," the surgeon, Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, told CNN in an exclusive interview.

He declined to go into specifics on Castro's health, or to discuss El Pais' reports point-by-point, but he said they "are not in line with reality, are not truthful and not real."

El Pais, one of Spain's largest and most reliable papers, reported Tuesday that two sources at the hospital in Madrid, Spain, told its reporters that Castro had suffered complications after three failed surgeries.

El Pais reported that Castro suffered from diverticulitis, an inflammation of sacs on the large intestine that can rupture and cause bleeding. The infection spread to the tissue on the walls of the abdomen, a condition called peritonitis.

The infections, the paper said, have impeded the healing process. On Wednesday, El Pais quoted sources as saying that Castro personally made a decision to undergo a type of operation that subsequently went wrong instead of a more routine surgery.

Fidel Castro, shown in June 2006, hasn't been seen in public since undergoing surgery in July.


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