updated 12/30/2006 9:29:32 PM ET 2006-12-31T02:29:32

A statement attributed to Fidel Castro on the eve of the revolution’s 48th anniversary assured Cubans Saturday that the ailing leader could still recover from his prolonged illness.

The message was read by a newscaster on state television and radio. Castro traditionally sends a message to Cuban citizens every New Year’s Eve to mark the anniversary of the Jan. 1, 1959, revolution that brought him to power.

“I am grateful to you for your affection and support,” read the message. “Regarding my recovery, I have always warned that it could be a prolonged process, but it is far from being a lost battle.

“I collaborate as a disciplined patient, attended by the...team of our doctors.”

Castro purportedly said he was still “in the loop” when it came to matters of state. “I have had exchanges with our closest comrades always when cooperation has been necessary on vitally important issues.”

Earlier Saturday, Cuba’s Communist Party daily reported that Castro telephoned the Chinese ambassador in Havana to wish President Hu Jintao a happy new year.

The government’s release of the message and the news about his call to the Chinese ambassador seemed aimed at ensuring the world that he is recovering, five months after he underwent emergency intestinal surgery.

Shrouded in secrecy
Because Castro’s medical condition is shrouded in secrecy, it has been the subject of speculation and rumor.

Castro, 80, has not been seen in public since shortly before July 31 when he announced he was temporarily stepping aside while he recovered from his operation.

He has provisionally ceded power to his brother Raul, the 75-year-old defense minister.

Saturday’s story said Castro called Chinese Ambassador Zhao Rongxian on Thursday evening and they discussed relations between their countries. The ambassador also transmitted his president’s wishes for Castro’s speedy recovery.

The island’s official media has not commented on a Spanish surgeon’s declarations earlier this week that Castro did not have cancer and was slowly recovering from a serious operation.

Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, chief surgeon at Madrid’s Gregorio Maranon Hospital, said he flew to Havana on Dec. 21 to see Castro and consult with the Cuban leader’s medical team on how his treatment was progressing.

Castro’s medical condition is a state secret, but Cuban authorities deny he suffers from terminal cancer, as U.S. intelligence officials have claimed. Cuban officials have nonetheless stopped insisting Castro will return to power.

Garcia Sabrido said Castro could resume the presidency if his recovery is “absolute.”

Some doctors believe Castro may suffer from diverticular disease, which can cause bleeding in the lower intestine, especially in people over 60. In severe cases, emergency surgery may be required.

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