Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez says Fidel Castro continues working and writing, and is staying on top of world affairs.

Chavez's comments come as a monthlong halt in Castro's regular essays has raised new concerns about the health of the 82-year-old former Cuban president, who had emergency intestinal surgery about 2 1/2 years ago.

Venezuela's presidential press office confirmed Friday that Chavez said Castro "is working, writing" and following international affairs.

Chavez was asked about his close friend's health by a reporter on the sidelines of a meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in western Venezuela.

On Sunday, Chavez fueled speculation by saying Castro would likely not appear in public again.