HAVANA -- Cuban officials said yesterday that Fidel Castro was steadily recovering from surgery and the government was still preparing for its worst-case scenario: an attack by government opponents taking advantage of the leader's health crisis.
Castro, whose 80th birthday is next Sunday, has made no appearances in the five days since his surgery for gastrointestinal bleeding was announced to the Cuban public. But government officials told Reuters yesterday that he had started to eat and sit up in bed.
Brazilian officials denied a newspaper report that they had been told by Cuban authorities the veteran revolutionary had a malignant stomach tumor and may never be able to return fully to power.
Defense Minister Raúl Castro, his younger brother and the man named to temporarily replace him as the island's top leader, was nowhere to be seen.
Vice President Carlos Lage said that Fidel Castro is recovering satisfactorily from surgery and that the communist leader sent his ``fraternal greetings" to the people of Bolivia, according to Cuban news agency Prensa Latina. Lage was in Bolivia for the opening today of a convention to rewrite its constitution.
Lage is among a group of six Cuban leaders assigned leadership responsibilities by Fidel Castro after the leader's surgery. He is charged with overseeing Castro's ``energy revolution," a massive renovation of the island's antiquated electrical grid.
Cubans had been warned there would be few details about the leader's health. Yet some privately speculated the lack of information could indicate he was extremely ill.
The Cuban government beefed up security, mobilizing citizen defense militias and asking military reservists to check in daily because of the concerns. Veterans -- most of them in their 60s and 70s -- promised they would fight for Cuba in the event of an attack.
``We will continue working with the same revolutionary fervor that you taught us," the Association of Combatants of the Cuban Revolution said in a statement on the Communist Party daily Granma's front page. The veterans fought in Castro's battles of the 1950s to oust dictator Fulgencio Batista and then defended the island against the failed US-backed Bay of Pigs invasion.
The current efforts appear designed to bolster internal solidarity and to quell an outside threat.
Granma ran a series of emotional front-page statements by some of the island's top cultural figures, wishing Castro a steady recovery and pledging loyalty to Castro and the socialist system he created.