August 14, 2006

Castro receives Chavez visit

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro
received a visit at his bedside from his main ally Venezuelan
President Hugo Chavez, the Communist Party newspaper Granma
said on Monday, publishing pictures of the two men.

The daily said Castro, who underwent stomach surgery two
weeks ago, was fighting "for life."

The gallery of pictures posted on Granma's Web site
( show Chavez shaking Castro's
hand on his 80th birthday on Sunday, handing him presents,
writing notes together and drinking what appears to be milk.

Castro is lying in bed in what looks like a hospital room.
The two men, fierce critics of U.S. policies in Latin America,
are wearing bright red shirts.

Also present at the reunion was Castro's younger brother
Raul, who made his first public appearance on Sunday as acting
president of Cuba when he greeted Chavez at Havana airport.

"It was an unforgettable afternoon, shared between brothers
of the cause, that brought new strength and encouragement to
the brave Comandante of a thousand battles who is seeking a new
victory for life," Granma said.

Castro handed over the reins of government temporarily to
his brother on July 31 after undergoing surgery to stop
intestinal bleeding.

There were no new details on Castro's condition.

But in a birthday message to Cubans on Sunday, Castro said
his recovery could take time and cautioned them to be ready for
bad news.

"I suggest you be optimistic and, at the same time, always
prepared to receive bad news," he said in his message.


Venezuela's presidential press office said Chavez met with
Castro but did not describe the meeting.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales sang "Happy Birthday,
comandante" to Castro on Sunday and vowed to take him a
birthday cake made with coca leaves -- the raw material used to
make cocaine.

News that their leader had appeared in photographs 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

Others were more skeptical about the pictures and thought
his condition was worse than the nation was being told.

Details of Castro's health are considered a state secret.
It is not known just what kind of operation he underwent, or
whether he will be able to resume his government duties.

After 47 years in power, 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 survived the
collapse of Cuba's benefactor, the Soviet Union.

(Additional reporting by Brian Ellsworth in Caracas and
Eduardo Garcia in Caranavi, Bolivia)