HAVANA – Photographs published in Cuba's party newspaper Saturday showed Fidel Castro meeting and shaking hands with a visiting Chinese Communist Party official, the latest sign the Cuban leader is becoming increasingly active more than eight months after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery.
The Communist Party daily Granma reported that Wu Guanzheng, a member of the Chinese Communist Party's Politiburo, met separately Friday with both Castro and his younger brother Raul, who has been filling in for his brother since July.
A short message about the encounter was first read Friday night on state television and carried on official news services, and the new images of Castro were released Saturday.
In two photographs published on Granma's Web site, Castro is seen dressed in a brown and red track suit with white detailing as he meets with Wu. In one, he sits in a rocking chair across from Wu with another member of the Chinese delegation between them, apparently taking notes on the meeting. In a second, the two men are standing and shaking hands.
While he looks somewhat pale after months indoors, the 80-year-old appears much stronger than the early images of him last fall, dressed in red pajamas and resting in bed while visiting with his ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.
Fidel Castro's condition and exact ailment remain state secrets, but he is believed to suffer from diverticular disease, which can cause inflammation and bleeding in the colon.
Castro has not been seen in public since before July 31, when he announced he had undergone surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his brother while he recovered. Since then, he has been seen only in photographs and videos released by the government, initially looking thin and weak but more recently appearing stronger.
Cuban officials have been giving increasingly positive reports about Castro's recovery, sparking expectations that he will make a public appearance soon, perhaps at the annual May 1 workers parade that draws hundreds of thousands of people.
In recent weeks, he has written three editorials published in official media under the title "Reflections of the Commander in Chief." Two criticized the use of food crops for the production of ethanol for cars, and another accused the U.S. government of protecting his old nemesis Luis Posada Carriles, a Cuban-born anti-communist militant released this week from American custody while he awaits trial on immigration fraud charges.
Cuba and Venezuela accuse Posada of violent acts against the island, including the 1976 bombing of a Cubana de Aviacion airliner that killed 73 people. Posada has denied involvement.
After meeting for an hour with Fidel Castro and delivering a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao, Wu met with Raul Castro to discuss economic and other issues, Granma said.
Trade between the two communist countries has burgeoned in recent years, growing to $1.8 billion last year, double that of 2005, according to Chinese officials in Cuba. Chinese exports of buses, locomotives and farm equipment and supplies to Cuba helped account for the sharp increase.