(AP) - Cuba's vice president said Sunday Fidel Castro would return to work in a few weeks after intestinal surgery that forced him to hand over power temporarily to his younger brother.
"Fidel's going to be around for another 80 years," Vice President Carlos Lage said. Castro turns 80 next Sunday.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Castro was out of bed and talking following his surgery as messages wishing the Cuban leader a quick recovery poured in from Latin America's leading leftists and Elian Gonzalez, reports Trend.
Lage, in Bolivia to attend the country's constitutional assembly, was asked by reporters when Castro would be back at work.
"In a few weeks, he'll be recovered and he'll return to his duties," Lage said.
Lage had earlier denied reports Castro had stomach cancer and reiterated Sunday the Cuban leader was recovering well.
"The operation that he underwent was successful and he is recovering favorably," Lage said.
Cuban officials have provided no details and released no pictures of Castro since his surgery was announced last Monday fueling speculation around the world about his condition. His brother Raul Castro, the defense minister, also has not been seen in public since the announcement.
"How are you, Fidel?" Chavez said during his weekly TV and radio program, suggesting he believed the Cuban leader was watching. "We have reliable information of your quick and notable recuperation."
"Fidel Castro, a hug for you, friend and comrade, and I know you are getting better," Chavez said.
Talking by phone with Bolivian President Evo Morales later during the program, Chavez said that Castro was bouncing back quickly.
"This morning I learned that he's very well, that he is already getting out of bed, he's talking more than he should because he talks a lot, you know. He has sent us greetings," Chavez said.
Morales said he was glad to learn of Castro's recovery, and "what's left is for him to be incorporated into the battle of his country" again. Saying Castro was like an "older brother," Morales added, "We hope to see our friend Fidel soon."
Chavez replied, "More than an older brother, he is like the pope for all of us, the revolutionaries of this continent." Chavez said he will hold a special edition of his program, "Hello President," next Sunday in honor of Castro's 80th birthday.
Before Castro fell ill, Morales had promised to travel to Havana for Castro's 80th birthday and bring him a cake made from the flour of coca leaves.
Former Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega arrived in Havana from Nicaragua late Saturday and said: "I am sure that we will soon have Fidel resuming his functions and leading his people."
Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban boy at the center of a dramatic international custody battle six years ago between his relatives in Miami and his father in Cuba, joined the list of people wishing Castro a swift recovery.
"We send you this letter to let you know that we are worried about your health," Elian Gonzalez, now 12, wrote to Castro along with his half-siblings and cousins. The letter was published Sunday in the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde.
Morales, a leftist elected in December as Bolivia's first Indian president, said his government would send a high-level mission to Havana in the coming days, according to his spokesman Alex Contreras.
In Washington, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice said Sunday the United States wants to help Cubans prepare for democracy but is not contemplating an invasion of the island in the wake of Castro's illness.
"The notion that somehow the United States is going to invade Cuba, because there are troubles in Cuba, is simply far-fetched," Rice told NBC television. "The United States wants to be a partner and a friend to the Cuban people as they move through this period of difficulty and as they move ahead. But what Cuba should not have is the replacement of one dictator by another."
Cuban authorities have beefed up security by mobilizing citizen defense militias, increasing street patrols, and ordering decommissioned military officers to check in at posts daily.
Roman Catholic Cardinal Jaime Ortega, the island's top churchman, called on parishioners Sunday to pray for the Castro's health, peace on the island, and fraternity among all Cubans, both here and abroad.
"We pray for the fatherland, for Cuba, and those who are leading it," Ortega told reporters in brief comments after his regular Sunday Mass at the cathedral in Old Havana.
Outside another church, a group of political prisoners' wives known as the Ladies in White held their weekly silent march after Sunday Mass without interruption by authorities.