Ex Venezuelan VP says he met with Fidel Castro

Associated Press Modified: October 21, 2012 at 7:46 pm •  Published: October 21, 2012

HAVANA (AP) — Former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said Sunday that he met with aging revolutionary icon Fidel Castro for five hours and showed The Associated Press photos of the encounter, quashing persistent rumors that the former Cuban leader was on his deathbed or had suffered a massive stroke.

Jaua also confirmed that the 86-year-old retired Cuban president personally accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after their meeting Saturday, in which they talked about politics, history, culture and tourism.

"He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel," Jaua said Sunday, adding that Castro looked "very well."

Jaua showed a photograph of himself seated in a minibus along with the former Cuban leader, Castro's wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, a hotel executive and several other people. The photo shows Jaua and Castro smiling broadly, and the former Cuban leader is wearing a checked shirt and cowboy hat.

The public appearance was Castro's first in months. A top Hotel Nacional executive told the AP earlier Sunday how Castro had dropped off the Venezuelan guest, then stayed on to chat with hotel staff.

"Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes," commercial director Yamila Fuster said. Fuster was not present, but hotel director Antonio Martinez is seated next to Castro in the photo shown by Jaua, and told Cuban media later that the bearded revolutionary's health was great.

"Fidel is excellent and his health is magnificent," Martinez said in comments carried on the evening news, which also broadcast images of Jaua showing off his photograph with Fidel. "With his cowboy hat, his smile, his ideas, (he was) very coherent and affectionate with the workers."

The news presenter also announced that Castro would publish an article on Monday, but did not say what it would be about.

State-run Trabajadores newspaper reported that an election worker collected an absentee ballot from Castro at his home and took it to the polls for him, a right it said was extended to all citziens with "impediments." On Sunday, Cubans were voting in municipal elections which the island's leaders hold up as evidence the government is representative. Critics say the process is a sham because there is no campaigning and only the Communist Party is recognized.

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