CIA says Castro has Parkinson’s disease
...And could have difficulty coping with the duties of office as his condition worsens,
WASHINGTON – The CIA has concluded that Cuban President Fidel Castro suffers from Parkinson’s disease and could have difficulty coping with the duties of office as his condition worsens, an official said on Wednesday.
The assessment, completed in recent months, suggests the nonfatal but debilitating disease has progressed far enough to warrant questions among U.S. policymakers about the communist country’s future in the next several years.
«The assessment is that he has the disease and that his condition has progressed. There appear to be more outward signs,» said an official who is familiar with the assessment.
Bush administration officials and members of Congress have already been briefed on the findings about Castro. The Cuban leader, 79, has been in power on the island of 11 million people since leading a 1959 revolution and has long been at ideological odds with Washington.
But U.S. diplomats played down the significance of any CIA assessment and said they were not using such intelligence to make policy decisions about Castro or Cuba.
«Do we see him losing his grip over the country? No,» said a State Department official, who asked not to be named because he was discussing intelligence conclusions. «We are not in any way adapting how we plan for the day Castro is gone based on an assessment that he might have Parkinson’s.»
The CIA based its assessment on a variety of evidence, including observations of Castro’s public appearances and the opinions of doctors employed by the espionage agency.
«If the assessment is correct, you could expect there to be effects on his ability to come to grips with fresh challenges over the next several years,» said the U.S. official who has seen the CIA report. He spoke on condition of anonymity because the document is classified.
«It could have implications for the way Castro functions, and by natural course, the way the Cuban government functions,» the official added.
HISTORY OF RUMORS
Cuban officials declined to comment on the CIA assessment. They insisted Castro was in good health when he failed to show up at a summit of Ibero-American leaders in Spain in October.
Castro has long been the subject of rumors of illnesses including Parkinson’s, despite a generally strong physical constitution. Many of the reports up to now have come from the anti-communist Cuban American community in Florida.
Castro has dismissed them as the work of his enemies who wish to see him dead. In a recent television interview with Argentine soccer star Diego Maradona, Castro joked the rumors were so many that the day he died, nobody would believe it.
The Cuban leader’s pace has slowed noticeably since tumbling to the floor after a speech a year ago. But his stamina appears unabated and he still gives long speeches.
Castro’s brother Raul, head of the armed forces, has been designated as his successor and the Cuban leader has said that he expects Cuba’s political system to outlive him.
«If it’s true and he does have it, then it’s still an open question anyway as to how much it might — somewhere further in the future — affect how he runs Cuba. So we would not use this kind of conclusion to inform our policymaking, anyway,» the State Department official said of the CIA assessment.
Cuba and the United States have no diplomatic relations and Washington imposed an economic embargo on Havana 43 years ago.
Parkinson’s is a chronic, irreversible disease that affects about 1 percent of people over the age of 65 worldwide. Among notable sufferers are actor Michael J. Fox, boxing legend Mohammad Ali and former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno.
The Miami Herald, which originally reported the CIA assessment on Wednesday, said Castro could be entering a period in which medicines are less effective and mental functions start to deteriorate.
But the newspaper said Cuba analysts fear the possibility of a tumultuous period during which an incapacitated Castro refuses to give up power but can no longer lead.
In October 2004 when Castro tripped and broke his left knee and right arm after a speech, he refused tranquilizers and general anesthetic during a three-hour operation, telling Cubans he was fully in command of government affairs.
He has dismissed reports of illnesses ranging from stroke and brain hemorrhage to heart attack and hypertensive encephalopathy.