Cuba TV shows Castro meeting with Chavez

Iran Materials 31 January 2007 11:31 (UTC +04:00)

(www.ap.org) - Cuban state television late Tuesday showed a video of a healthier looking Fidel Castro meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and saying his recovery was "far from a lost battle," in the first images of the ailing leader in three months.

Castro stood and appeared alert in the 10-minute video clip, which state TV said was shot during Chavez's previously unannounced visit to Havana on Monday.

The video seemed to be aimed at knocking down recent rumors about Castro's health, including a report that he was in grave condition.

Castro looked heavier than in previous images that showed him much more thin and frail. Dressed in a red, white and blue track suit, the 80-year-old was shown sitting and drinking juice, reports Trend.

"This also is far from being a lost battle," Castro said of his current health problems.

He noted that when severe intestinal problems struck last summer, he was still not fully recovered from an October 2004 fall that severely injured a knee and a shoulder. "One after the other," Castro said of his health troubles.

Later in the video, Chavez was even more optimistic, saying Castro had already won the battle to recover his health. The Venezuelan president's brother, Education Minister Adan Chavez, was also seen in the video visiting Castro.

Cubans watching the video being shown repeatedly on nightly television news as they sat in open cafes and restaurants said the images reassured them about Castro's health.

"He looks a lot better now," said 28-year-old law student Nicolas Fernandez. "He's well; strong of mind and body."

State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore declined to comment on the video.

The broadcast came six months after Castro stunned the nation with a July 31 announcement that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his younger brother Raul. Since then, Raul Castro has led a collaborative leadership that has kept the government running calmly in his brother's absence.

The date that Tuesday's video was taken could not be immediately confirmed. In it, Chavez said the two-hour private meeting took place on Monday and ended at 3 p.m. on Jan 29. In Caracas, a presidential spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, confirmed that Chavez made a one-day visit to Havana on Monday.

On the video, Castro was also heard reading aloud a headline from a printout of an article dated Saturday from the Web version of Argentine newspaper Clarin.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 26 вЂ" five days before he stepped aside. He looked more thin and frail the last time video images were broadcast, on Oct. 28.

Cuban officials told visiting U.S. lawmakers last month that Castro does not have cancer or a terminal illness and will eventually return to public life, although it was not clear whether he would return to the same kind of absolute control as before.

In the latest video, Chavez said he found his friend to be "of good humor, with a good face and in good spirits." He said the pair discussed a variety of issues, including the world's energy crisis, and that Castro showed "much clarity, as always in his ideas and analysis."

A report in the Spanish newspaper El Pais earlier this month said the Cuban leader was in "very grave" condition. The paper, citing two unnamed medical sources from Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, had reported Castro was still recovering after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal ailment common in older people called diverticulitis.

The hospital employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat Castro. The article's authors later said Garcia Sabrido was not among their sources and he later dismissed much of the report as half-truths and rumors.