HAVANA – Cuban state television showed a video of a healthier looking Fidel Castro meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and saying his recovery was "far from a lost battle," in the first images of the ailing leader shown in three months.
Castro stood, appeared alert and was shown drinking juice in the 10-minute video clip that aired Tuesday, but which state TV said was shot during Chavez's previously unannounced visit to Havana on Monday.
The 80-year-old Cuban leader, who dropped from public view six months ago after emergency intestinal surgery setting off rampant speculation about his health, looked heavier than in previous images that had showed him thin and frail.
"This also is far from being a lost battle," Castro, who wore a red, white and blue track suit, said of his current health problems.
He noted that when his severe intestinal problems struck last summer he was still not fully recovered from a devastating October 2004 fall that severely injured a knee and a shoulder. "One after the other," Castro said of his health troubles.
Later in the video, Chavez was even more optimistic, saying Castro had already won the battle to recover his health. The leftist Venezuelan president's brother, Education Minister Adan Chavez, was also seen in the video visiting Castro.
Cubans watching the video being shown repeatedly on the nightly television news as they sat in open cafes and restaurants in Old Havana said the images reassured them about Castro's health.
"He looks a lot better now," said 28-year-old law student Nicolas Fernandez, who predicted Castro would live another 12 years. "I think it was a positive video. He's well; strong of mind and body."
The date the video was taken could not be independently confirmed. In it, Chavez said the two-hour private meeting took place on Monday and ended at 3 p.m. on Jan 29. In Caracas, a presidential spokeswoman, speaking on customary condition of anonymity, confirmed that Chavez made a one-day visit to Havana on Monday.
On the video, Castro was also heard reading aloud a headline from a printout of an article dated Saturday from the Web version of Argentine newspaper Clarin.
State Department spokeswoman Joanne Moore declined to comment on the video.
Castro stunned the nation six months ago when he temporarily stepped aside for his younger brother, the 75-year-old defense minister. Since then, Raul Castro has led the nation at the head of a collaborative leadership that has kept the government running calmly in his brother's absence from public life.
The most recent previous video of Castro aired on Oct. 28 and showed a thinner, frailer Castro.
The Cuban leader has not been seen in public since July 26 — five days before he stepped aside.
The newest images seemed to be aimed at knocking down recent rumors about Castro's health, including a report in a Spanish newspaper earlier this month that said he was in "very grave" condition.
El Pais, citing two unnamed medical sources from Gregorio Maranon hospital in Madrid, had reported Castro was still recovering after three failed operations and complications from an intestinal ailment common in older people called diverticulitis.
The hospital employs surgeon Jose Luis Garcia Sabrido, who flew to Cuba in December to treat Castro. The article's authors later said Garcia Sabrido was not among their sources and he later dismissed much of the report as half-truths and rumors.
Cuban officials told visiting U.S. lawmakers last month that Castro does not have cancer or a terminal illness and will eventually return to public life, although it was not clear whether he would return to the same kind of absolute control as before.
In the latest video, Chavez said he found his friend to be "of good humor, with a good face and in good spirits." He said the pair discussed a variety of issues, including the world's energy crisis, and that Castro showed "much clarity, as always in his ideas and analysis."