Los Angeles Times
January 15, 2004

Castro Appeared Sick, Mayor of Bogota Says

Cuban leader showed 'physical limitations' at recent talks, according to the Colombian.

By Carol J. Williams
Times Staff Writer

BOGOTA, Colombia The leftist mayor of Colombia's capital city, who met recently with Fidel Castro in Havana, said Wednesday that the
Cuban president appeared "very sick" during their talks.

Mayor Luis Eduardo Garzon, a former communist labor leader, also said he found living conditions and observance of human rights in Cuba to
be disappointing, and indirectly criticized Castro for stifling rival points of view.

"In Cuba, everything is driven and controlled by one party," Garzon told Radio Caracol of his December visit to Havana. "That's not right. I have always said there
should be no dictatorships, neither from the left nor from the right."

While speculation about the health of the 77-year-old Castro surfaces every time he skips a regional summit or shows up looking his age, the man who has ruled
Cuba for 45 years has nevertheless delivered speeches of six or eight hours in recent years. Still trim, he maintains a fairly rigorous agenda of travel and public
appearances.

But Bogota's mayor said he thought the Cuban leader appeared ill.

"He seemed very sick to me," Garzon told the radio station, which broadcasts throughout Latin America. "You could see he had physical limitations, especially in his
speech."

News media inundated Garzon's office with calls for details, said Augusto Gubides, the mayor's press secretary. He said the mayor was not immediately available for
further comment.

Garzon, once a member of the Communist Party and still firmly aligned with the left, defeated a right-wing ally of Colombian President Alvaro Uribe in October
elections and took office Jan. 1, after his holiday visit to Cuba.

The only other regional figure to have seen Castro recently is Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who played host to Castro for a few hours at a secret venue on
Dec. 22. Venezuelan journalists reported that it was on the island of Orchila, and focused on the oil trade, which is a vital component of the Caribbean neighbors'
relations.

Castro did not go to the 13th Ibero-American summit in Bolivia in November, a venue at which he usually basks in the limelight among admirers of his defiance of
the United States. Instead, he sent the vice president of Cuba's Council of State, Carlos Lage Davila, and Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque. Castro said his
domestic agenda was too crowded.

For unexplained reasons, Castro also waited three days this year to celebrate the 45th anniversary of his New Year's Day triumph over the regime of Fulgencio
Batista in 1959.

In Monterrey, Mexico, 34 other state leaders in the Western Hemisphere gathered this week for the Summit of the Americas. The Cuban leader is excluded from
that forum, as he is from most other Organization of American States events, for his country's failure to embrace pluralism or to respect the rights of political
opponents.

Castro's government has gained new critics over the last year for a harsh crackdown on dissidents in March that sent about 75 pro-democracy activists to prison for
long terms. Havana also executed three young ferry hijackers in early April, in a clear message to other Cubans who might be contemplating hostage-taking to
escape the island.

The Cuban government imposed a law this month severely restricting public access to the Internet. On Tuesday, Amnesty International, the London-based rights
watchdog, expressed concern about the move.