August 14, 2006

Castro receives Chavez at his bedside

By Anthony Boadle

HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba's ailing Fidel Castro received a
bedside visit from his main ally, Venezuelan President Hugo
Chavez, the Communist Party newspaper Granma said on Monday, as
it published pictures of the two leftist leaders.

The daily said Castro, who temporarily ceded power to his
younger brother Raul Castro on July 31 due to surgery for
intestinal bleeding, spent more than three hours with Chavez on
Sunday in what a headline called "An Unforgettable Afternoon
Among Brothers."

Granma said the leaders, united in the "joy of a deep
friendship," shared gifts, anecdotes, laughter and a frugal
snack as they marked Castro's 80th birthday.

Chavez, who has helped Cuba recover from the collapse of
its former benefactor, the Soviet Union, by providing cheap oil
and billions of dollars for Cuban doctors, was given a portrait
of Castro done by Mexican artist David Alfaro Siqueiros in
1959, the year he seized power.

"This is the best of all the visits I've ever made," Chavez
was quoted as saying.

Chavez's presents to Castro included a dagger with a marble
handle and scabbard that belonged to South American
independence hero and Venezuelan patriot Simon Bolivar.

Chavez, according to Granma, was impressed by Castro's
recovery. "What kind of human being is this? What's he made of?
Is he, as you say, a caguairan?" asked Chavez, referring to a
hardwood tree from eastern Cuba known for its strength.

In one photo, Castro lay in bed in what looked like a
hospital room. The two men, fierce critics of U.S. policies in
Latin America, wore bright red shirts. The pictures were posted
on Granma's Web site (

Also present was Raul Castro, who made his first public
appearance as acting president on Sunday when he greeted Chavez
at Havana airport.

The photos of Castro with Chavez followed the publication
on Sunday of a series of pictures of Castro on his own.

"First you have the cheesy Photoshop picture. At least the
second one was a little better," White House spokesman Tony
Snow told reporters on Monday.

There were no new details on Castro's medical condition,
which the veteran revolutionary has termed a state secret.

But in a birthday message to Cubans on Sunday, Castro said
his recovery could take time. "I suggest you be optimistic and,
at the same time, always prepared to receive bad news," he


News Castro had appeared in photos came as a relief to many
Cubans worried his death could create upheaval in one of the
world's last communist outposts. But some thought his condition
was worse than the nation was being told.

"I think he will recover, but he will not be able to go
back to the same rhythm," said film student Jorge Diaz, looking
at the Granma photos of Castro.

"Now he has to let others govern. He has done enough
already, with all those hours of speeches," said Alexis Wilson,
a driver sitting outside his overcrowded and dilapidated home
in the Vedado district of Havana.

"But he can't let go. He is the figurehead and will have to
continue guiding others. It's like the father of a big family.
If he goes away, everything in the house disappears."

After 47 years in power, Castro is the last of the key Cold
War-era figures and has survived 10 U.S. presidents, despite
efforts to oust him.

In Miami's Little Havana neighborhood, anti-Castro Cuban
exiles continued to hope the Cuban leader's illness would bring
change to the island.

"I wish it would be the other way around and he's not in
the picture anymore," said Paul Salgueiro, a doctor who left
Cuba in 1961.

(Additional reporting by Jane Sutton in Miami)