- Associated Press - Friday, April 25, 2014

HAVANA (AP) - Fidel Castro was hit hard by last week’s death of longtime friend and Nobel Prize-winning Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Cuba’s No. 2 leader said Friday.

Speaking in Havana as he signed a book of condolences at the Colombian Embassy, Cuban First Vice President Miguel Diaz-Canel said Castro was left “dismayed.”

Fidel is a man of great human sensibility, so he feels the loss of his friends,” Diaz-Canel told reporters. “But he is also a man who is very seasoned by all the battles he has had to fight … he also has a resilience for such problems.”

Castro has not commented publicly on Garcia Marquez’s passing, though he sent a floral arrangement to a memorial ceremony in Mexico City, where the author lived the final three decades of his life.

The two were close for years after Garcia Marquez came to Cuba to work for Prensa Latina, the state news agency founded by guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara.

Castro’s silence fueled yet another round of rumors on social media about the health of the 87-year-old former leader, who was forced from office in 2006 by a near-fatal intestinal illness.

He also kept mum for days after the deaths last year of two others he considered close friends: Nelson Mandela of South Africa and Hugo Chavez of Venezuela.

Castro, 87, retired from the Cuban presidency for good in 2008 and rarely appears in public now. Last year, he all but stopped writing once-regular opinion pieces that were carried across Cuban state media.

“His health is very good. He is working intensely,” Diaz-Canel said.

The vice president saluted Garcia Marquez for his “literary greatness,” his support for the Cuban Revolution and his friendship with Castro.

Diaz-Canel is the first high-level Cuban official to speak publicly about Garcia Marquez since the author of “One Hundred Years of Solitude” and other renowned novels died April 17 in Mexico City at age 87.

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Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ARodriguezAP