- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 10, 2006

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said yesterday his close friend and ally Fidel Castro is in a “great battle for life,” but he also expressed optimism about the 79-year-old Cuban leader’s recovery.

“From here, let’s pray to God for Fidel and his recovery, and he’s fighting a great battle,” Mr. Chavez said in a televised speech from the eastern state of Anzoategui.

Mr. Chavez said he had received a message from Mr. Castro on Wednesday “that filled me with more optimism, with more faith.”

“Among other things Fidel told me. … ‘I keep saying Chavez, God help Chavez and his friends,’ ” Mr. Chavez said.

“I wrote to him in my own handwriting last night, in the early morning, to send it with the messenger who was returning immediately: ‘You are fighting a great battle every day, all these nights,’ ” Mr. Chavez said.

Mr. Castro said July 31 he was stepping aside temporarily, granting his powers to his brother Raul as head of the government and the Communist Party so he could recover from intestinal surgery.

Neither brother has been seen in public since then. Details of Mr. Castro’s condition, his ailment and the surgical procedure he underwent are being treated as a “state secret.”

The ailing Cuban leader turns 80 on Sunday.

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