Illness forces Cuban leader to cede power temporarily to brother

HAVANA, Cuba (CNN) -- Fidel Castro's health situation is "stable" and he is in "good spirits," according to a message attributed to him and read on Cuban television Tuesday evening.

The message provided little detail about the medical condition that prompted Castro to temporarily cede power to his brother, Raul, on Monday.

Blaming intestinal surgery, Cuban television reported the handover Monday night, the first time Castro has ceded control of the island nation in 47 years.

"In the Cuban situation, based on plans of the empire, my health becomes a secret of state that cannot be divulged constantly," the message from Castro said, referring to the United States. "My fellow countrymen should know this. I cannot be in a vicious cycle all day long.

"I can say that it is a stable situation, but a real evolution of my health takes time. So all I can say is the situation will continue stable for many days before a verdict can be issued."

The message also said that "our people will know everything in its due time."

"I cannot make up good news because that would not be ethical. And if it were bad news, the only one who would take advantage of that is the enemy," the message said.

The message from Castro also thanked the Cuban people and admirers around the world for their messages of concern.

"I'm sorry to have worried so many of my friends," the message from Castro said. "I am in very good spirits, and the important thing is that everything is moving perfectly well in the country and will continue to do so."

The Cuban leader's secretary, Carlos Valenciaga, read a letter Monday night that he said was from the president announcing the news. In it, the Cuban leader said that stress had forced him into surgery and that he would be in bed for several weeks after the operation.

Castro, who has led Cuba since the 1959 revolution, turns 80 on August 13.

Raul Castro, 75, is the first vice president of the country and designated successor to his brother. He also is assuming control over the armed forces and leadership of the Communist Party, according to the Cuban statement.

The news sparked celebration across the Straits of Florida in Miami, home to Cuban-American exiles for more than four decades since Fidel Castro's rise to power.

The fact that Castro didn't make the handover announcement himself raised suspicions among many Cuban-Americans, including Sen. Mel Martinez, a Florida Republican.

"I think it is possible he may be very ill or dead," said Martinez, who was born in Cuba before the revolution.

Martinez said the United States has a plan to prevent any mass migration "in either direction" across the Florida Straits. In 2003, President Bush appointed him co-chairman of the Commission for Assistance to a Free Cuba.

Cmdr. Jeff Carter said Tuesday the U.S. Coast Guard had "no indications that there is any need to implement plans for mass migration" and that the guard has long had a plan in place to deal with a mass exodus.

Celebrations among exiles
South Florida's Cuban-American community of about 650,000 is the largest part of Florida's fast-growing Hispanic population, with its influence felt across the state, according to the AP.

In Miami, people poured into the streets waving Cuban and American flags, shooting off fireworks and chanting "Cuba libre" -- meaning "Free Cuba."

"It's about time that we get a change," said Jose Palma, who was born near Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. "We know for years ... that Castro has been sick."

As the revelry pushed into the early hours of Tuesday, Miami's roads were gridlocked with honking cars, prompting fears of headaches for the morning rush-hour commute.

"It is a cause for celebration," said Miami-Dade County Mayor Carlos Alvarez, while asking residents to show some restraint and keep traffic flowing throughout the city.

"We certainly don't want to hinder in any way, shape or form ... the enthusiasm we all feel."

Bush talks of Cuba's future
The White House said Tuesday that the administration has no plans to reach out to Raul Castro.

"The thing we want to do is to continue to assure the people of Cuba that we stand ready to help," White House spokesman Tony Snow told reporters.

Before Castro's illness was revealed, Bush talked about Cuba's future in interviews Monday while in Miami.

"If Fidel Castro were to move on because of natural causes, we've got a plan in place to help the people of Cuba understand there's a better way than the system in which they've been living under," he told WAQI-AM Radio Mambi, a Spanish-language radio station, according to the AP.

"No one knows when Fidel Castro will move on. In my judgment, that's the work of the Almighty."

Bush also told Miami TV station WPLG: "Our objective is to free the Cuban people."

The administration took a more measured approach after Havana's announcement.

Castro's surgery came weeks after a U.S. government report called for the United States to have assistance in Cuba within weeks of the communist leader's death to support a transitional government and help move the country toward democracy.