Fidel Castro Falls After Speech
HAVANA -- President Fidel Castro tripped and fell after leaving the
stage at a graduation ceremony, but later returned to say that he was
"all in one piece."
Castro's off-camera tumble after the Wednesday night speech in the
central city of Santa Clara was certain to launch a new round of
speculation about the 78-year-old communist leader's health after 45
years of rule.
There was no official word from the government on Castro's condition
after he left Santa Clara, about a three-hour drive east of Havana, in
his regular black Mercedes Benz.
Speaking live on state television less than a minute after his fall,
Castro told television viewers across the island of 11.2 million people
that he thought he had broken his knee "and maybe an arm ... but I am
all in one piece."
"I will do what is possible to recover as fast as possible, but as you
can see I can still talk," he said, sweating profusely into his olive
green uniform as he sat in a folding chair. "Even if they put me in a
cast, I can continue in my work."
An Associated Press photographer at the scene said Castro tripped on a
concrete step after he finished walking down the stairs from the stage,
then fell onto the ground on his right side, first hitting his knee and
hip, and then his elbow and arm.
He was immediately surrounded by scores of security agents and others
who rushed to help him up.
Television viewers could not see what happened after Castro wrapped up
the speech at a graduation ceremony for arts instructors. Television
viewers only saw several of his security men running off to the side,
evidently to assist him.
As he has grown older, Castro's knees have seemed more wobbly, his step
less steady. Nevertheless, he maintains a busy schedule that frequently
includes all-night meetings with aides and visitors.
Castro's health has long been closely watched - particularly by his
political enemies in Miami, home to a large Cuban exile community.
Such speculation was particularly fierce three years ago when he
apparently fainted during a speech under a scorching Caribbean summer
sun before a crowd of thousands.
Many people burst into tears after watching Cuba's commander in chief
start to collapse behind the podium several hours into that speech on
June 23, 2001.
Castro returned minutes later to assure people in the audience - and
millions more watching it live on television - that he was fine.
But the incident prompted many average Cubans to reflect for the first
time on their leader's mortality and the future of their country after
The Wednesday night incident seemed far less serious.
Castro on Wednesday asked Cubans to forgive him for "any suffering this
may have caused."
Castro noted the presence of international photographers and television
camera crews at the event.
"The international press has captured it and surely tomorrow it will be
on the front pages of the newspapers," said Castro.
He then encouraged those at the event to continue with their televised
musical program, which they did.
POSTED: 7:52 am EDT October 21, 2004