HAVANA – Fidel Castro said Wednesday he is not yet healthy enough to address Cuba's people in person and can't campaign for Sunday's parliamentary elections.
"I am not physically able to speak directly to the citizens of the municipality where I was nominated for our elections," the ailing 81-year-old wrote in an essay published by state news media.
Hours later, government television broadcast images of a frail but upbeat Castro meeting Brazil's visiting President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva on Tuesday.
The first video of Castro in three months showed him sitting and listening intently with a finger pressed to his forehead, then later standing and speaking, waving a finger for emphasis.
"I have felt very good, very good," Castro says after exchanging a warm hug with Silva — the only audible comment on the 60 seconds of footage.
Silva, a leftist admirer of the Cuban revolution, said Castro's health "was a nice surprise."
Speaking to reporters at the airport just before leading the island, Silva said Castro appeared healthy enough to return to politics.
"I think Fidel is ready to take over his historic political role in this globalized world, in humanity," Silva said. He did not suggest what that role might be.
Castro has not been seen in public since July 2006, when emergency intestinal surgery forced him to cede power to a provisional government headed by his brother Raul, five years his junior. Despite stepping aside, the elder Castro has retained his position as head of the Council of State, Cuba's supreme governing body.
In Wednesday's essay, he expressed frustration with the fact that he can no longer give the kind of hours-long speeches for which he was noted.
"I do what I can: I write. For me, this is a new experience: writing is not the same as speaking," he wrote.
Raul Castro addressed a crowd of voters on Dec. 24 in the brothers' home district in the eastern city of Santiago, saying he was filling in for Fidel. But Wednesday's essay was the first time the older Castro acknowledged he is not well enough to campaign for himself — though there was no sign he would pull out of the election.
Re-election to the legislature, or National Assembly, is a necessary step if Fidel Castro is to continue as head of the Council of State.
Voters on Sunday can vote for some or all of the candidates nominated earlier by municipal councils.
In the video, Castro is seen wearing a track suit and tennis shoes — which have replaced olive-green fatigues as his standard uniform since he fell ill. In still photos from the meeting, he is seen seated and grinning, his beard well-trimmed and hair combed as he talks with Silva. At one point, he pretends to snap pictures with a small camera.
"My feeling is that Fidel is in very good health, that he's as lucid as he's ever been," Silva said.
Cuba's government has not given details about Castro's illness or where he is being treated, but has released photos and video every few months, meant to confirm he is on the mend.
"He looks really recuperated, with a lot of energy," said Havana resident Manuel Puerta, looking at a photo of Castro that ran on the front page of the Communist Party newspaper Granma on Wednesday. "Taking into account his long illness, I think he looks very good."
Castro suggested in a letter last month that he would not cling to power forever or stand in the way of a younger generation of leaders. But he also cited the example of a Brazilian architect who is still working at 100, and has not said when — or if — he will permanently step aside.