HAVANA (CBSMiami/AP) – For the first time since rumors surfaced last week that Fidel Castro’s health had taken a turn for the worse and he was near death, the former Cuban leader has appeared in public.
An executive with the Hotel Nacional said the 86-year-old Castro dropped off a guest Saturday afternoon, then stayed 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.
She said she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the state-owned establishment.
“They told me he looked very good. He was wearing a checked shirt and a hat,” she said.
Fuster would not release the name of the Venezuelan guest, but witnesses at the hotel say former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua is staying there.
Jaua, who is currently running for governor of Miranda state, confirmed he had a working meeting with Castro and he was doing well. He even showed off a picture taken with Castro, who was in fact, wearing a checked shirt and hat.
The Nacional is Cuba’s most famous hotel and a common choice of many distinguished guests to the island.
Castro’s health has been the subject of intense speculation for years, but the rumors gained force in recent days after he failed to publicly congratulate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a top ally, on his Oct. 7 electoral victory. The former Cuban leader has not appeared since March, when he was shown greeting visiting Pope Benedict XVI, and he has also ceased writing his once-constant opinion pieces, the last of which appeared in June.
Twitter and other social media sites have been abuzz with claims of Castro’s demise. Late last week, a Venezuelan doctor purported to have information that Castro had suffered a stroke, but the same doctor has previously claimed knowledge that turned out to be false.
Sunday’s news from the Hotel Nacional appeared to be Cuba’s attempt to hit back against what it says are false and malicious rumors. A letter attributed to Castro was published Thursday by Cuban state media. In it, he congratulated graduates of a medical school on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.
Two close family members of Castro have also recently denied he is in grave condition. Juanita Castro, the former leader’s sister who lives in Miami, said reports of her brother’s condition are “pure rumors” and “absurd.”
Son Alex Castro told a reporter for a weekly Cuban newspaper that his father “is well, going about his daily life.”
Castro stepped down in 2006 following a severe illness, handing power to his brother Raul.
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