- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 30, 2007

HAVANA — Cuban state television yesterday showed a video of a healthier-looking Fidel Castro meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and saying his recovery was “far from a lost battle,” in the first images of the ailing leader shown in three months.

Mr. Castro stood and appeared alert in the 10-minute video clip, which state television said was shot during Mr. Chavez’s previously unannounced visit to Havana on Monday.

The video seemed to be aimed at knocking down rumors about the Cuban leader’s health, including a report that he was in grave condition.

Mr. Castro looked heavier than in images from Oct. 28 that had showed him much thinner and frailer. Dressed in a red, white and blue track suit, the 80-year-old was shown sitting and drinking juice.

“This also is far from being a lost battle,” Mr. Castro said of his current health problems.

He noted that when his severe intestinal problems struck last summer he was still not fully recovered from a devastating October 2004 fall that severely injured a knee and a shoulder. “One after the other,” he said of his health troubles.

Later in the video, Mr. Chavez was even more optimistic, saying Mr. Castro already had won the battle to recover his health. The Venezuelan president’s brother, Education Minister Adan Chavez, also was seen in the video visiting Mr. Castro.

The broadcast was aired six months after Mr. Castro’s July 31 announcement that he had undergone intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his younger brother, Raul.

The date that yesterday’s video was taken could not be confirmed. In it, Mr. Chavez said the two-hour private meeting took place on Monday and ended at 3 p.m. In Caracas, a presidential spokeswoman, speaking on the customary condition of anonymity, confirmed that Mr. Chavez made a one-day visit to Havana on Monday.

On the video, Mr. Castro was heard reading aloud a headline from a printout of an article dated Saturday from the Web version of Argentine newspaper Clarin.

Mr. Castro stunned the nation six months ago when he temporarily stepped aside for his brother, the 75-year-old defense minister. Since then, Raul Castro has led the nation at the head of a collaborative leadership that has kept the government running calmly in his brother’s absence from public life.

Mr. Castro has not been seen in public since July 26, five days before he stepped aside.

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