- The Washington Times - Sunday, October 14, 2007

HAVANA (AP) — Fidel Castro called in to the Venezuelan president during a television and radio broadcast today, the first time the ailing Cuban leader has made a live media appearance since February.

The telephone call came minutes after visiting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez aired a new videotape of their weekend meeting in which he sang revolutionary hymns to Castro and called him “father of all revolutionaries.”

“I am very touched when you sing about Che,” Castro told Chavez during his call to Chavez’s “Alo, Presidente!” program — referring to revolutionary icon Ernesto “Che” Guevara, to whom the program was dedicated.

“There is electricity in the air,” Chavez said, obviously pleased with Castro’s call.

On the videotape, reportedly made during a meeting of more than four hours yesterday afternoon, Chavez also gave Castro a painting he said he made while imprisoned in the early 1990s after leading a failed coup.

The dark-colored painting showed the bars of his cell and a night scene beyond, with a full red moon and a guard tower in the distance.

Castro told him he needed to sign his work. “No one knows the merit that this has, that you did this!”

Cuban state television was broadcasting Chavez’s program live from Santa Clara, where the communist government last week commemorated the 40th anniversary of Guevara’s death.

Chavez toured the museum below the towering statue of Guevara, which also contains a mausoleum housing Guevara’s remains.

Earlier today, Cuban state media released two new official photos of the men together, but provided no details about the ailing Cuban leader’s health.

Wearing the red, white and blue track suit that has become his typical dress during his convalescence, Castro looks pale and serious in one photograph published on the Web site of the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde as he stands and shakes Chavez’s hand.

But Castro looks more animated in a second photograph as the pair sit in bamboo chairs at an undisclosed location while he appears to read from a book with a picture of Guevara on the cover while Chavez looks on. In both, Castro’s already sparse gray beard seems to have thinned considerably.

The last official image of Castro was a photograph released late last month, showing him looking more robust than in some past pictures as he stood and greeted Angolan President Angolan President Jose Eduardo Dos Santos.

Chavez has visited the 81-year-old Castro several times since the Cuban leader underwent emergency intestinal surgery in late July 2006 and ceded authority to his younger brother Raul.

Castro has not appeared in public in the 14 months since he fell ill. Castro called in to one of Chavez’s programs broadcast from Venezuela in February and the pair chatted for more than a half hour.