- The Washington Times - Monday, August 14, 2006

12:51 p.m.

HAVANA — Cuba’s communist daily published new photographs of ailing leader Fidel Castro today, showing him in bed during a visit on his 80th birthday with his brother Raul and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

The official Granma newspaper posted the seven photographs a day after the Communist Youth newspaper ran the first images of Mr. Castro since he announced two weeks ago that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was temporarily ceding power to his brother.

Mr. Chavez’s visit yesterday came the same day Mr. Castro sent a message to the Cuban people, warning them that he faces a long and difficult recovery.

In the most recent pictures, Mr. Castro is in bed, wearing what looks like a red sweatshirt. In an eighth photograph, Raul Castro is shown embracing Mr. Chavez when he arrived in Havana yesterday. It was Raul Castro’s debut appearance as acting president.

Scores of people swarmed Havana’s newspaper stands this morning, buying copies of the daily to see the pictures.

“They look very good to me,” 79-year-old parking attendant Rene Vicente Rodriguez said of the photographs. “The people love him, and we are going to have Fidel for a while.”

News of Mr. Castro’s illness has made Cubans uneasy about the future, but upbeat statements from government officials and two days of photographs have helped calm a public gradually facing up to the mortality of the island’s longtime leader.

The photos seemed designed to prove that Mr. Castro was recovering.

“An Unforgettable Afternoon Among Brothers,” Granma said of yesterday afternoon’s visit by Mr. Chavez, Mr. Castro’s closest friend and political ally in Latin America.

The lead photo shows Mr. Chavez and Raul Castro standing at Fidel’s bedside — all three smiling — next to a large portrait of the Cuban leader on an easel. The newspaper said Raul Castro gave Mr. Chavez the portrait, which formerly hung in his office and was painted in 1959 by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros.

Mr. Castro and Mr. Chavez shared “more than three hours of emotional exchange, anecdotes, laughs, photos, gifts, a frugal snack and the happiness of close friendship,” Granma said.

The newspaper quoted Mr. Chavez as saying, “This is the best visit I’ve ever had in my life.” Expressing surprise at Mr. Castro’s recovery, Mr. Chavez reportedly commented: “What kind of human being is this? What material is it made of?

“It is, as you people say, made of caguairin,” Mr. Chavez reportedly said, using the name of the tropical hardwood tree that Granma has used to describe Mr. Castro in recent days.

The images suggest real affection between the men, with them smiling at each other, clasping hands and in one, drinking what looks like a milkshake. Cuban officials have not disclosed where Mr. Castro is being treated.

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