A Rumor Castro Has Lung Cancer

Posted: January 05, 1989

WASHINGTON — Periodically, rumors circulate in Miami and Washington about the health of Cuban President Fidel Castro - mostly that he is dying, is dead or has been assassinated. In all cases, the rumors are quickly denied and laid to rest.

Yesterday was one of those days. A small item in this week's edition of Time magazine quoting Soviet officials as saying Castro has lung cancer prompted Miami's Spanish-language radio stations to broadcast the report and U.S. officials in Washington to scramble for the latest data on the Cuban leader's health.

After quick checks with the small American diplomatic mission in Havana and with Rep. Charles B. Rangel (D., N.Y.) and Sen. Claiborne Pell (D., R.I.), who saw Castro in late November, U.S. officials concluded there is no evidence suggesting that Castro is dying of cancer.

"Based on our checks, we see no evidence of Castro suffering from major health problems," said a Reagan administration official familiar with Cuban affairs.

"He seemed in vigorous, fine health to me," said Pell, who is chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and saw Castro in Havana on Nov. 27 for two hours.

Equally scornful of the Time magazine report - carried as the lead item in its Grapevine section - were Cuban officials in Washington. A Latin American diplomat who is in close touch with Cuban government officials said senior officials view the Time report as part of a media campaign to cause a rift between Havana and Moscow.

The reason, the diplomat said, is that the Time report cited Soviet officials as the principal sources. In the past, these rumors usually have come from anti-Castro Cuban exile sources.

American and Cuban officials acknowledged that Castro, 62, appears thinner than in years past, but they attributed the weight loss to exercise and diet.

Cuban and American officials said they have not noticed a diminution in Castro's unorthodox work schedule - he often receives foreign visitors late into the night - although his speeches are shorter, averaging two to three hours instead of six or eight hours.

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