Castro walks in Havana - Venezuela's Chavez


Cuba's ailing former leader Fidel Castro, not seen in public for almost three years, appeared on the streets of Havana and people cried when they recognized him, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said today.

Mr Chavez, a close friend of the legendary revolutionary, spent several hours with Mr Castro in Cuba last weekend and said he was in his best health since falling ill in July 2006.

Mr Chavez' account of the walkabout, and other reports from visiting foreign leaders in recent weeks may indicate an improvement in Mr Castro's health.

"Fidel went out and they saw him, Fidel walking in the streets in Havana, a miracle, the people cried," Mr Chavez said during a service to commemorate a massacre in Venezuela.

"Of course he planned it so there would be no record of it. But there are some photos I have seen. I consider myself privileged," Mr Chavez said.

He did not say when Mr Castro went out on the streets.

Mr Castro, 82, has not appeared at any public event since being operated on for an undisclosed intestinal problem in July 2006, even missing the 50th anniversary of the Cuban revolution in January.

He was formally replaced by his younger brother, Raul Castro, as president of the communist-run Caribbean island last year. Raul Castro had been provisionally in charge since Fidel Castro fell ill.

Mr Chavez is Cuba's main benefactor and helped the communist-run island with cheap oil sales steady its economy after the collapse of its former aid and trade partner the Soviet Union.

Mr Chavez frequently exchanges letters with Fidel Castro, who has also been visited by other Latin American presidents in recent weeks. The Cuban government has often released images of such meetings afterward that have sometimes shown a thin Mr Castro walking around slowly.

Cuban officials and the state-run Cuban media have given almost no details on the health of the former leader.

Mr Chavez has usually been accurate with his comments about Mr Castro, who he calls his father.

In January, Mr Chavez added to speculation that Fidel Castro's health was failing or worse when he said on his Sunday radio show that his friend who "walked the streets and his uniform and hugging the people, will not return. That will remain in memory."

His words added to rumors that swirled after Mr Castro missed events celebrating the anniversary of the revolution that put him in power on January 1st, 1959, and for several weeks stopped writing his columns published in state-run press.