Fidel Castro polished his memoirs near death

HAVANA Thu Jan 24, 2008 11:16am EST

Cuban leader Fidel Castro poses in this photo taken by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during their meeting in Havana January 15, 2008. REUTERS/Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva/CubaVision TV/Handout

Cuban leader Fidel Castro poses in this photo taken by Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva during their meeting in Havana January 15, 2008.

Credit: Reuters/Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva/CubaVision TV/Handout

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HAVANA (Reuters) - As doctors fought to save his life 18 months ago, Cuban leader Fidel Castro's main concern was to dictate final changes to his memoirs.

Believing his time was up, the man who once defended his armed revolution by stating "History will absolve me" became obsessed with changes to the first edition of his memoirs.

"When I fell seriously ill the night of the 26th and early on the 27th of July, I thought it was the end," Castro, who has not appeared in public since the emergency stomach surgery, wrote in an essay published on Thursday by Cuba's state media.

"While the doctors fought for my life, the chief of staff of the Council of State read out the text at my request and I dictated the necessary changes," the 81-year-old leader said.

"Fidel Castro: My Life" was published last year in Britain and this month in the United States. The book is based on over 100 hours of interviews with Ignacio Ramonet, editor of Le Monde Diplomatique.

The memoirs, written in question-and-answer style, give a definitive record of Castro's views on major events since he seized power in a 1959 revolution, from the Cuban missile crisis to Cuba's military role in Africa and the fall of communism in the former Soviet Union.

Castro also speaks of the political legacy he hopes to leave behind and his successor, his 76-year-old brother Raul Castro.

Castro has only been seen in video and photographs, looking gaunt and frail, since he was rushed to hospital in July 2006 with intestinal bleeding.

His illness, which remains a state secret, forced him to hand over power "temporarily" to his brother and he has been unable to return.

Castro has instead maintained a political presence by writing dozens of columns and essays on world affairs. In December, he hinted that he would not cling to power.

Cuba's National Assembly will meet on February 24 in a session that will reveal whether Castro will continue as Cuba's head of state or retire to an advisory role as elder statesman.

(Reporting by Anthony Boadle; Editing by Kieran Murray)

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