IMAGE: Cuban leader Fidel Castro
Granma via AP FILE
Cuban leader Fidel Castro, pictured here in a photo released Sept. 5, is reported to be in serious condition, according to the Spanish newspaper El Pais.
NBC News and news services
updated 1/16/2007 9:44:18 AM ET 2007-01-16T14:44:18

Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro has had at least three failed operations and complications from an intestinal infection and faces “a very grave prognosis,” a Spanish newspaper reported Tuesday.

A Cuban diplomat in Madrid said the reports were lies and declined to comment.

“It’s another lie and we are not going to talk about it. If anyone has to talk about Castro’s illness it’s Havana,” the diplomat said, speaking to The Associated press on condition of anonymity because of official policy.

The newspaper El Pais cited two unnamed sources from the Gregorio Maranon hospital in the Spanish capital of Madrid. The facility employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat the 80-year-old Castro.

In a report published on its Web site, El Pais said: “A grave infection in the large intestine, at least three failed operations and various complications have left the Cuban dictator, Fidel Castro, laid up with a very grave prognosis.”

Cuba has released little information on Castro’s condition since he temporarily ceded power in July to his brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, until he could recover from emergency intestinal surgery, prompting much speculation and rumor in the country and around the world.

Despite its seeming immediacy, the El Pais report may shed no new light on Castro's current condition.

Sources told NBC News on Monday that the El Pais article was not based on new information, but on information from the Spanish surgeon who examined Castro in December.

Rare detailed description
El Pais’ report, which could not immediately be confirmed, was a rare detailed description from a major media outlet about Castro’s condition.

The U.S. government had speculated that Castro could suffer from cancer — a supposition denied by Sabrido. Some U.S. doctors believed Castro was suffering from diverticular disease, which can cause bleeding in the lower intestine, especially in people over 60. In severe cases, emergency surgery may be required.

That idea was supported by El Pais, which reported that its sources said Castro had suffered a bout of the disease.

“In the summer, the Cuban leader bled abundantly in the intestine,” El Pais reported. “This adversity led him to the operating table, according to the medical sources. His condition, moreover, was aggravated because the infection spread and caused peritonitis, the inflammation of the membrane that covers the digestive organs.”

The recovery from the first operation, in which part of his large intestine was extracted and the colon was connected to the rectum, did not go well. The link broke and he released feces into the abdomen that caused another peritonitis, the report said.

A second operation to clean and drain the infected area also failed, the paper said. He was then hit with inflammation of the bile duct, an illness which has a 80 percent mortality rate, el Pais said. A prosthesis made in South Korea was implanted and failed and later was replaced with one made in Spain.

‘Severe loss of nutrients’
El Pais said that in December, when Garcia Sabrido visited, Castro had an abdominal wound that was leaking more than a pint of fluids a day, causing “’a severe loss of nutrients.” The Cuban leader was being fed intravenously, the report said.

Garcia Sabrido was not reachable at his home or at the Madrid hospital where he works as the chief surgeon. His secretary at his office said he was not planning to comment.

A statement attributed to Castro was released on New Year’s Eve saying his recovery was “far from being a lost battle.”

Cuban officials told visiting U.S. lawmakers last month that Castro does not have cancer or a terminal illness and will eventually return to public life, although it was not clear whether he would return to the same kind of absolute control as before.

The Associated Press and NBC News' Mary Murray in Havana contributed to this report.

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