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Castro's Sister Reports Cuban Leader Is Very Sick


As Cuban exiles in Miami continue to debate about the condition of Cuban President Fidel Castro, his sister, Juanita Castro, who fled her brother's regime more than four decades ago, said the Cuban leader is very sick. The Bush administration is urging Cubans to work for democratic change in their communist-ruled country.

Juanita Castro told reporters Thursday Fidel is quite ill, but besides that, she knows very little else about the condition of her older brother.

"He's very sick. That's it, I don't have other information, unfortunately no. It's not easy, my communication right now with the regime," she said.

Ms. Castro spoke outside a small pharmacy she runs in Miami.

She fled the island amid political differences with her brother. But despite that, she said, they are still bound by family ties.

"We are separated for political reason, ideological reason, but that's it. The blood is strong. The relation between brother and sister and father and mother is very strong. Nobody can condemn me because I take this determination to publicly speak out what I feel," she said.

President Castro transfered power to his younger brother, Defense Minister Raul Castro, on Monday after he underwent surgery for intestinal bleeding. But both Fidel and Raul have not been seen in public since the announcement.

If Raul was to permanently take power, she says, she wishes for God to illuminate him, and for him to have a clear mind to be the way to achieve a real democracy in Cuba.

State-run media has carried headlines wishing President Castro a speedy recovery. But the mood is much different in Miami's large exile community.

Crowds have gathered each night since the announcement in the Little Havana neighborhood cheering and waving Cuban flags to celebrate what they hope is the end of Mr. Castro's rule.

In Washington Thursday, President George W. Bush is calling all democratic nations to unite in support of the right of the Cuban people to define a democratic future for their country.

In his first statement on the event, Mr. Bush said the U.S. is absolutely committed to supporting the Cuban people's aspirations for democracy and freedom. And he promises to stand ready to provide humanitarian assistance as needed to help them in their transition time.

President Castro, who turns 80 August 13, has said in a statement that his health is stable, but he needs time to recover.