August 13, 2006

CORRECTED-Castro appears in photos, brother Raul in person

Corrects typo in 4th paragraph to change "massage" to

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro
appeared in photographs published on Sunday to reassure Cubans
he was still alive on his 80th birthday while his brother Raul
made his first public appearance since becoming acting

Raul Castro met Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with a
military salute and a hug at the Havana airport. It was the
Cuban defense minister's first appearance since his brother
temporarily ceded power to him on July 31 due to surgery to
stop intestinal bleeding.

Chavez, a leading ally, flew to Havana to mark the elder
Castro's birthday and became the first foreign leader to see
the ailing Castro, though he was not seen again after arrival.

The Communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde published
what it said were current pictures of Fidel Castro, along with
a cautious message attributed to the leader saying his
condition had improved but that he was not out of the woods.

"I suggest you be optimistic and, at the same time, always
prepared to receive bad news," he said, adding he faced a long

"To say the stability has improved considerably is not to
tell a lie. To say that the period of recovery will be short
and there is now no risk would be absolutely incorrect," Castro
said in the message also posted on the youth daily's Web site

The photographs of Castro were the first visual evidence he
was alive since he relinquished power to his younger brother.

The pictures showed Castro in a bedroom, wearing a track
suit and sitting in a chair speaking on the telephone.

The four photographs of Castro, showing him from the waist
up, included one of him holding a birthday supplement published
by the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Saturday, an
apparent move to show the pictures were current.

Venezuela's Presidential Press office issued a statement
saying that Chavez "met this Sunday, August 13 with his Cuban
counterpart Fidel Castro." The press release did not describe
the meeting or comment on Castro's condition apart from
repeating Castro's own statement.


Word that the "comandante" had reappeared and was on the
mend came as a relief to many Cubans worried his death could
create upheaval in one of the world's last Communist outposts.

"He looks good. His smile conveys calm and serenity," said
Yasmin, a 21-year-old teacher. "If it is true the photos were
taken after the operation, there is no reason to worry."

Others were more skeptical about the pictures and voiced
concern at the message's cautious tone, their anxiety increased
by the constant tributes to Castro, documentaries and old video
being shown by government media, which they saw as evidence he
might already be dead.

"If he is as good as he looks in the pictures, why hasn't
he spoken on television?" said an electrician, who asked not to
be named. "I think this is a montage."

Details of Castro's health are considered a state secret.
It is not known what operation he underwent, nor whether he
will be able to resume his government duties. Cuban officials
have said the workaholic Castro will have to slow down if he is
to recover.

Some in Cuba doubt whether the uncharismatic Raul Castro,
75, can handle his brother's job.

Sugar Minister Gen. Ulises Rosales del Toro, leading 500
workers doing an extra stint in a cane field outside Havana in
homage to Fidel, defended Raul.

"Raul is the man with the qualities to lead the nation's
destiny next to Fidel and when he is no longer with us,"
Rosales told reporters in the sweltering 95-degree Fahrenheit
(35 C) heat.

Castro is the last of the key Cold War-era figures on the
world stage and has survived 10 U.S. presidents, despite
efforts to oust him. He also weathered the collapse of Cuba's
benefactor, the Soviet Union.

In Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, restaurant patrons
viewed the photos warily. One photo, showing Castro resting his
chin on a closed fist, seemed to have been "posed to show
strength and vigor," said a man who identified himself only as

(Additional reporting by Marc Frank in Havana, Michael
Connor in Miami and Brian Ellsworth in Caracas)