CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday it is unlikely that ailing former Cuban leader Fidel Castro will ever appear in public again.
"That Fidel in his uniform who walked the streets and towns late at night, hugging the people, won't return," Chavez said during his Sunday television and radio program. "That will remain in memories."
He did not discuss the 82-year-old Castro's current medical condition or say why he thought Castro would not return to the public stage.
Chavez has continued to meet occasionally with his friend Castro in private since the former Cuban leader underwent emergency intestinal surgery about 2 1/2 years ago. Castro was last seen in public on July 26, 2006, at a celebration in eastern Cuba.
Since then, Cuban authorities have periodically released photos and videos of Castro meeting with Chavez and other foreign leaders.
Fidel has ceded power to his younger brother Raul Castro, but continues to write essays published in official Cuban media.
Chavez, who says he is steering Venezuela toward socialism, fondly recalled the last time he and Castro appeared in public together during a trip to Argentina in July 2006.
"He walked to the door of the plane and we hugged. My God. I didn't think it would be the last time."
"Fidel will live forever, beyond the physical life," Chavez said Sunday.
Since taking office in 1999, Chavez has forged strong ties with Cuba. Venezuela ships 190,000 barrels of crude oil a day to the communist-led island at preferential rates while Cuba has sent thousands of doctors and sports trainers to Venezuela.