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Last Updated: Monday, 25 December 2006, 15:30 GMT
Spanish surgeon examines Castro
Image of President Fidel Castro on Cuban TV (28 October 2006)
Castro seemed frail during his last TV appearance in October
A leading Spanish surgeon has gone to Havana to examine the ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro and decide whether he needs another operation.

A Madrid health official said a top surgeon, Dr Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, had gone there in response to Cuban requests for help.

President Castro, 80, is recuperating from surgery he underwent in July to stop intestinal bleeding.

He has placed his younger brother, Raul, in charge of the government.

Dr Garcia is an expert on intestinal ailments, particularly cancer.

Although Mr Castro's health is a state secret, Cuban officials have said that he is not suffering from cancer or any terminal illness, and that he is recuperating.

The Madrid health official, Manuel Lamela, said Spain had been sending medicines to Cuba since June.

On Sunday the Barcelona-based newspaper El Periodico reported that Dr Garcia had flown to Havana on Thursday on a jet chartered by the Cuban government.

Dr Garcia is understood to have been in Havana just last month - on that occasion to take part in an international conference on surgery.

According to the programme for the event, he gave two lectures. One was on peritoneal cancer - a cancer of the lining of the abdomen. The other was on colonic cancer.

US claims denied

Since Mr Castro temporarily stood down from power almost five months ago, there has been no shortage of speculation as to what he might be suffering from.

Unnamed US officials have told American media that it is cancer, possibly in its terminal stages.

But earlier this month, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez strenuously denied that his long-time friend and ally was suffering from the disease.

Cuban government officials, including the country's foreign minister, gave the same message to a visiting group from the US Congress last week.

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