Venezuelan Ambassador: Food Helping Castro Recover

Cuban leader Fidel Castro's health has improved following a post-intestinal surgery period in which the aging revolutionary icon temporarily stopped eating, Venezuela's ambassador to Cuba said Thursday.

Ali Rodriguez Araque said Cuban officials observing Castro have seen "a significant improvement in his health, even his appearance," which was clear from footage of a recent meeting between Castro and Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez — one of the 80-year-old Cuban leader's closest allies.

"He's improving progressively. The problem is that at first he didn't ingest food, now he is ingesting food and that has helped him significantly," Rodriguez told Venezuelan state television.

Cuba's communist government has kept Castro's condition and exact ailment secret, leading to speculation that he was gravely ill. Images of a meeting between Castro and Chavez last week appeared to be aimed at quelling those rumors.

Cuban authorities have insisted that Castro is recovering, and have denied reports by U.S. intelligence officials that he had terminal cancer, although they stopped insisting weeks ago that Castro would return to power.

During the half-year since Castro announced he had undergone intestinal surgery, the communist-led country has been governed by his brother Raul and a team that includes Vice President and Cabinet Secretary Carols Lager.

The Cuban government has sought to reassure Cubans about Castro's health after intestinal surgery forced him to temporarily cede power for the first time in 47 years, saying his health is stable and the defense of the island guaranteed.

Rodriguez Araque said he expected the situation in Cuba would remain normal when Castro dies.

"I think there's been much preparation for a situation of this type," he said.

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