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Castro's condition serious, Spanish newspaper reports

People in Santiago de Cuba walked in front of a shop window Friday displaying a picture of Cuba's president, Fidel Castro. (adalberto roque/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)

HAVANA -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro is in serious condition after three failed operations on his large intestine for diverticulitis complicated by infection, the Spanish newspaper El Pais reported.

Castro, 80, suffered a serious infection that worsened to peritonitis, the newspaper said in today's editions. It cited two medical sources at the Madrid hospital where a surgeon who visited Castro in December works.

Castro's prognosis is "very serious" and he is being fed intravenously, the paper said.

Diverticulitis is the inflammation of pouch-like bulges in the intestinal wall. Peritonitis is an infection of the lining of the abdominal cavity.

A first operation to extract part of Castro's large intestine and reconnect the colon was a failure and the link broke, releasing feces into the abdomen that caused another peritonitis, the newspaper reported.

A second operation to clean and drain the infected area and perform a colostomy also failed, the paper said. Castro underwent a third operation to implant a Korean-made prosthesis, but it did not work and was replaced by one brought from Spain.

Dr. Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, an intestinal specialist at Madrid's Gregorio Maranon Hospital, visited Castro in late December. He said at the time that Castro did not have cancer and could return to govern Cuba if he recovered fully from his surgery.

"The patient required drainage for more than half a liter of fluids a day, which is causing him a severe loss of nutrients," the paper reported.

Castro, who took power in Cuba in 1959, has not been seen in public since July 26. He handed over power to his brother Raul five days later, fueling speculation he is so ill he may never return to power on the communist-run Caribbean island.

In a New Year's message issued on Dec. 30, Castro told Cubans that he was recovering slowly from surgery and said his recovery was "far from being a lost battle."

Garcia Sabrido traveled to Cuba on a plane chartered by the Cuban government. The plane also brought medical equipment not available in Cuba, according to El Periodico de Catalunya, a Spanish newspaper.

Garcia Sabrido was believed to have performed tests to determine whether another operation was needed to halt intestinal bleeding, the newspaper said, citing hospital sources. The hospital and the Cuban Embassy in Madrid declined to comment at the time.

Also yesterday, a diplomat said Castro has been having problems with the healing of his stitches.

The diplomat, who asked not to be named because of the sensitivity of the issue, was among one of the presidential delegations with close relations to Havana that were in Quito, Ecuador, for the swearing in of leftist President Rafael Correa.

The diplomat also dismissed reports that Castro may have cancer. US officials had said they suspected the Cuban leader could be terminally ill with cancer, but they offered no evidence .

Cuban officials in Havana were not immediately available to comment on the reports. But Cuban authorities have consistently said they would not divulge details of Castro's illness.

On Saturday, Castro's eldest son, Fidel Castro Diaz-Balart, told reporters in Chile that his father is on the mend.

"He's getting better, better, I see him improving," the Soviet-trained nuclear physicist said, adding that his father was in a "positive and optimistic mood."

The younger Castro did not comment further on his father's health. He was in Chile to attend the dedication of a scientific center, which was attended by top scientists and Chile's president, Michelle Bachelet.