Chavez Tells Castro It's Still Too Early to Die; Likens Him to Muhammad Ali

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Monday that Cuban leader Fidel Castro was recovering from surgery quickly and told his close friend it's still too early to die.

Chavez marveled at Castro's health and compared him to former heavyweight boxing champion Cassius Clay — who later changed his name to Muhammad Ali — two days after the aging communist icon appeared in a video to dispel rumors he was on his deathbed.

"He was moving his arms like a boxer, he looks like Cassius Clay," said Chavez, speaking at the inauguration of a government employment program in Caracas. "We are going to give Fidel an applause and congratulate him for his recovery."

After nearly a half-century in office, Castro temporarily ceded power to his brother Raul in July after undergoing intestinal surgery. The Cuban government has treated his ailment as a state secret.

"He knows that we miss him, that he cannot die yet. He's assumed the recovery at the age of 80 with great discipline, and there's the result," said Chavez, a former paratrooper who says his government is establishing a socialist economic model in Venezuela.

Castro, dressed in a red, white and blue track suit, said in the video that he was trying to help those currently in charge of the government as much as he could while he recovers. He called rumors of his death ridiculous, claiming they were the work of his enemies.

Since Castro's surgery, Chavez has been regularly informing the international community on his ally's health.