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Surgeon disputes El Pais report, says Castro improving

Story Highlights

NEW: El Pais report was based on secondhand info, says journalist behind story
• Paper cited unnamed medical sources at hospital where Castro examiner works
• Surgeon who examined Castro slams report, says it's "not in line with reality"
• Castro opted for trickier surgery that went wrong, El Pais says
From Al Goodman
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MADRID, Spain (CNN) -- The Spanish surgeon who examined Fidel Castro last December in Cuba told CNN Wednesday that a Spanish newspaper's reports this week about his health were based on rumors and that the Cuban president's current 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.

When asked about Sabrido's comments, one of the journalists who wrote the articles for the Spanish newspaper, El Pais, said the reports were based on second-hand information.

"We don't believe our sources have spoken directly with Castro, however, we believe Sabrido shared information with them," Oriol Guell told CNN en Espanol.

Garcia Sabrido told CNN he was not the source for El Pais' reports Tuesday and Wednesday about Castro's health. The paper cited unnamed medical sources at the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, where Garcia Sabrido is the chief surgeon.

Garcia Sabrido called CNN on Wednesday to discuss the newspaper's reports, which said Castro is in serious condition following surgery. The surgeon disputed that, saying "according to my information there is even some progressive improvement."

Asked why, Garcia Sabrido said, "that is normal for a patient who is recovering and where there are no incidents."

He confirmed to CNN that he examined Castro last month in Cuba for 90 minutes at the request of Cuban authorities.

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 Madrid hospital told its reporters that Castro had suffered complications after three failed surgeries to correct the problems.

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 reported, citing sources, that Castro himself personally made the decision to undergo a type of operation that subsequently went wrong instead of a more routine surgery.

Garcia Sabrido gave a news conference on Dec. 26 at the Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid after returning from Cuba, in which he said that Castro did not have cancer, was recovering from intestinal surgery and might even be able to return to work some day.

Castro last summer handed over power to his brother, Raul, and has not been seen in public since. Garcia Sabrido's December news conference was the first time since then that a doctor outside the Cuban government had publicly discussed Castro's condition.

On Wednesday, Garcia Sabrido said any eventual return to work would "depend" on the ability of the 80-year-old Castro to recover.

Garcia Sabrido declined to tell CNN if he was the only Spanish doctor who went to Cuba last December to see Castro.

He questioned whether El Pais' "medical sources" were indeed doctors, and he noted that the newspaper also cited another doctor, based elsewhere in Spain, for its report on Castro's health.

On Tuesday, Garcia Sabrido told CNN, "Any statement that doesn't come directly from his (Castro's) medical team is without foundation" regarding the Cuban leader's condition.

The Cuban government has revealed few details about Castro's health, on the grounds that Castro's condition is a "state secret."

Copyright 2007 CNN. All rights reserved.This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. Associated Press contributed to this report.

Castro in a June 2006 photo. He hasn't been seen in public since undergoing surgery on July 31.



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