HAVANA – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made his second whirlwind visit to Cuba in less than a week and met behind closed doors for two and a half hours with ailing former leader Fidel Castro, state media reported Sunday.
Chavez's stopover had not been previously announced, but the Communist Youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde said he landed in Havana Saturday evening and left hours later. He was greeted at the airport by 77-year-old Raul Castro, who succeeded his brother as president in February.
The newspaper published a photo of Chavez shaking hands with a serious-faced Raul Castro. There were no images of the ailing, 82-year-old Fidel, who has not been seen in public since undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.
Juventud Rebelde said Chavez discussed his recent tour of China, Russia and Europe with the Castro brothers, but did not give specific details on what it described as a "fraternal" encounter.
Chavez also stopped in Havana at the start of the tour for a face-to-face with Fidel Castro. Days later in Moscow, he told the Cuban government news agency Prensa Latina that Fidel was "stronger and more impetuous than a Hurricane Ike" — referring to the storm that killed seven people and damaged hundreds of thousands of homes in Cuba this month.
"We talked a lot and when I said goodbye, I was surprised by his strength," Chavez was quoted as saying in an article published Sunday.
Chavez is a close friend and ally of the older Castro, and oil-rich Venezuela sends nearly 100,000 barrels of crude a day to Cuba at favorable prices, helping to keep the island's communist economy afloat.
Holed up in an undisclosed location, Fidel Castro is suffering from an unknown illness but continues to sign essays that appear several times a week in state-controlled newspapers. He has not been seen in photographs or video images since June.