HAVANA – Talking at length, grinning for cameras and even cracking jokes, Fidel Castro looked stronger and more vibrant Sunday as the first TV images of the ailing Cuban leader in four months appeared to confirm official reports he is feeling better.
The two-and-a-half-minute clip appears to show Castro in the same red track suit with black and white trim that he wore in past official images. At times, the 80-year-old shakes his fist and waggles a finger for effect while talking to Vietnamese Communist Party chief Nong Duc Manh, who met with him on Saturday.
The pair are later shown smiling and embracing warmly. An upbeat Castro even draws laughs when he compliments a translator on how well he speaks Vietnamese and Spanish.
"Vietnam is a country that we will never forget," Castro says.
Toward the end of the meeting, Manh says: "I don't want to go, but I want you to rest to get better." Manh also invites the convalescing leader to visit Vietnam's capital of Hanoi. Castro visited the Asian country in 1973, when the U.S. was backing South Vietnam in a war with the communist north, which eventually won.
The clip ends with a round of applause from those accompanying Castro and Manh. A few seconds later, Castro is shown enthusiastically clapping with the others as the image fades out.
Photos of Castro standing with Manh also appeared on the front page of the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde on Sunday. Some Cubans lined up at newsstands to buy a copy.
"He's always animated, but now he's healthier," Havana resident Marvis Lescay said. "It is very satisfying for me to see him getting better."
It was the first official videotape of Castro released since he met in Havana with his friend and ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in January, and the first still photos of him since he met with the Chinese Communist Party leader Wu Guanzheng in April.
According to an official statement, Castro and Manh discussed topics "of mutual interest and especially about Latin America and the Caribbean" for two hours.
Castro complimented Vietnam's strong economy and advances in education and health care, official reports said.
"I'm very happy, very happy that during this visit I have had a meeting, a deep exchange of ideas of all kinds, with comrade Fidel Castro," said Manh, adding he was excited to see Castro happy and upbeat.
Castro has not been seen in public since he announced on July 31 that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was temporarily ceding power to his brother Raul, the defense minister.
Raul Castro turned 76 on Sunday, but it was unclear how he spent his birthday. The government did not say whether he planned to appear in public.
The elder Castro's exact ailment and condition remain state secrets, but he is widely believed to suffer from diverticular disease, which forms sacs in the colon that can become inflamed and bleed.
In one of a new series of essays he has been writing, Castro said he had undergone numerous operations and that the first one had not gone well, helping to explain why his health problems have persisted.
Nevertheless, senior Cuban officials have repeatedly said Castro is on the mend, even "practically fully recovered," and the government has occasionally released photographs and videotapes showing off his progress.
Raul Castro and Manh signed a bilateral accords on Friday, including one that will make Vietnam Cuba's latest partner in oil exploration and drilling in the Gulf of Mexico.