Castro photos published after health rumours

Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan television journalist Mario Silva (L) talk during...
Former Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Venezuelan television journalist Mario Silva (L) talk during an interview in Havana, in this still image taken from video released by the Cubadebate website. Image: REUTERS/Cubadebate/Handout
Photographs of a frail but apparently well Fidel Castro have been posted on a Cuban government website, following recent rumours that the 85-year-old former president was gravely ill or had died.

Castro, who had been out of sight for two months, was shown in what looked to be his Havana home chatting with Venezuelan state television commentator Mario Silva, who said he had come to Cuba to put to rest false reports about Castro's health.

"Those who are at this moment enjoying and believing that comandante Fidel had a stroke, I'm sorry to inform you that he is alive and kicking," Silva said in a video of his "La Hojilla" TV programme posted on the Cubadebate website along with the Castro pictures.

The program supports Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and regularly vilifies his critics.

Silva said the photographs of Castro were taken during an interview conducted by him in Havana on Tuesday, a video of which would be screened by the program later on Thursday.

They showed a grey-haired Castro, wearing a white windbreaker and green trousers, sitting, standing, smiling and gesticulating during the interview.

A few pictures showed him wearing a floppy, wide-brimmed green camouflage hat.

They were the first glimpse of Castro since he had appeared in early July in videos with his friend and ideological soulmate Chavez, when the latter received treatment for cancer in Communist-ruled Cuba.

Castro, the leader of Cuba's 1959 Revolution, ruled the Caribbean island for nearly half a century before handing over the Cuban presidency in 2008 to his younger brother Raul, because of ill health.

Fidel Castro had last appeared in public at a Communist Party congress in mid-April and has not written any of his once-plentiful "Reflexiones," or opinion columns published by state media, since July 3.

On Thursday, Cuban Parliament President Ricardo Alarcon told reporters Castro was doing well.

"It's my understanding that he is in perfect conditions of health. Mariela recently said he is alive and kicking, which is very good," Alarcon said, referring to Mariela Castro, niece of Fidel Castro and daughter of Raul Castro.

Fidel Castro's absence had provoked a flood of unconfirmed speculation in the past few weeks on social media site Twitter, where repeated reports said he had died or was near death.

The frenzy of rumors increased after an anti-Chavez political columnist in the Venezuelan daily El Universal wrote on Aug. 30 that the veteran Cuban revolutionary's shaky health had become "complicated" and that he was being given intensive care treatment at his home in Havana.

The Cuban authorities and state media had greeted the storm of rumors with silence.

Over the last two decades, rumors of Castro's death have often surfaced, only to be disproved time and again by the appearance of the enduring Cuban "Comandante".

"Fidel said long ago that the day he dies nobody is going to believe it, because they have killed him so many times, to no avail," Alarcon said.

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