NEW: Hotel director: "He was happy, with a permanent smile on his face, and talking"
The 86-year-old Castro "is doing very well," Venezuela's former vice president says
He shows a snapshot of the former Cuban leader he says was taken on Saturday
Speculation has surged over Castro's health in recent weeks
Fidel Castro “is doing very well,” Venezuela’s former vice president said Sunday, showing reporters a snapshot of the former Cuban leader that he said was taken the day before.
Speculation has surged over Castro’s health in recent weeks. He has not been seen publicly since March, when he met with Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff’s visit to Cuba.
Elias Jaua, Venezuela’s former vice president, said Sunday that he discussed a variety of subjects with the former Cuban leader in a lengthy meeting.
“Comandante Fidel was kind enough to meet with us yesterday,” Jaua said. “We talked for five hours about agriculture, history, international politics.”
The photograph, Jaua said, shows Castro and several members of his family in a van accompanying Jaua to the Havana hotel where he is staying.
Employees at the Hotel Nacional said they spoke with Castro and he looked well.
“He had good color. … He was happy, with a permanent smile on his face, and talking about a lot of things,” said Antonio Martinez, the director of the government-run hotel.
On Wednesday, Cuban state media released the first communique said to be from the 86-year-old ex-leader since speculation over his health reached a fever pitch earlier this month.
The message quoted Castro congratulating doctors graduating from a Cuban medical institute and mentioning the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.
Castro’s usually frequent newspaper columns and musings suddenly ended in June. But his silence after the re-election of close ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in October prompted many of his opponents to wonder whether Castro was again ailing or perhaps already dead.
“The comandante is well, following his daily routine, reading, exercising,” said Alex Castro, one of Castro’s sons, told Cuban state media after the reports of his ill health.
Still, a barrage of postings on Twitter and other social media had Castro at death’s door.
Castro never fully recovered after a botched surgery for a still unknown intestinal illness in 2006. Two years later, his brother Raul Castro officially succeeded him.