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HAVANA -- Cuban leader Fidel Castro warned Saturday that a US attempt to overthrow ailing President Hugo Chavez would unleash "a river of blood," and said "the oligarchy" will never rule Venezuela again.
Castro's strong warning in an article published by the Cuban press comes as Chavez is battling cancer and faces a tough re-election fight in October elections with the opposition united behind a single candidate, Henrique Capriles.
"The oligarchy would never be able to govern this country again," Castro wrote. "That's why it is worrying that the United States should decide under those conditions to promote the overthrow of the Bolivarian government."
"An error by (US President Barack) Obama, under these circumstances, would unleash a river of blood in Venezuela," he said.
Cuba has an enormous stake in the survival of the Chavez government.
Since coming to power in 1999, the leftist Venezuelan leader has become Cuba's most important ally, providing the communist-ruled island with crucially needed oil and investments while hosting thousands of Cuban advisers, doctors and technicians.
What happens if Chavez loses his grip on power, either to cancer or to electoral defeat, is a big unknown for Venezuela, where every major institution, from the military to the courts to the Congress, has long been dominated by the 57-year-old former army paratrooper.
Castro said it was a "dirty lie" that a desperate struggle for power was under way within the Venezuelan leadership over who would lead the government if Chavez dies.
He accused Venezuela's opposition of "multiplying its efforts to slander and hurt" Chavez, who has been undergoing radiation treatment in Cuba for cancer.
The true state of Chavez's health has been uncertain since he underwent surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic area in July 2011.
After five rounds of chemotherapy, the cancer returned and he underwent surgery again on February 26. So far, he has undergone four rounds of radiation therapy in Cuba.
Chavez returned home early Thursday after a nine day absence in Cuba for what was to have been his last round of radiation treatment, but the president said he would return to Cuba for yet another round later.
Chavez, who has never disclosed the type or severity of the cancer, telephoned Venezuela's state-run television on Monday to quell rumors he was dying.
Castro said Venezuelans can "have faith" that Chavez has not neglected his obligations despite his illness.
"His obligations are not out of his mind for a single minute, at times to the point of exhaustion," he wrote.