Former Cuban ruler Fidel Castro was reported to have met with Venezuela’s former vice president and also appeared at the Hotel Nacional on Saturday — his first public sightings since March and apparent evidence that rumors of his failing health were false.
“Fidel was kind enough to receive us yesterday. We spoke for five hours,” before Castro drove him to the Hotel Nacional, former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua told journalists Sunday in Havana. “Fidel is very well.”
Jaua also showed off a photo of him with the 86-year-old Castro, which he said was taken Saturday in a van parked at the hotel. The photo also showed Castro’s wife, Dalia Soto del Valle; Juan Antonio Martinez, the top director of the Nacional; and two unidentified women.
Losé Marquina, the Venezuelan doctor in Naples, Fla., who fueled rumors of a Castro health crisis with a claim last week that unidentified sources had told him the Cuban revolutionary had suffered an “embolic stroke,” said he did not believe the reports.
“The information that I have is that it was a maid who claimed to have seen him. This is a fabrication.” Marquina told El Nuevo Herald. “If you’re going to believe the communists, who have been lying forever, that’s OK. I don’t believe them.”
The Associated Press bureau in Havana, which first reported Castro’s visit to the Nacional, quoted hotel commercial director Yamila Fuster as saying that he dropped off an unidentified Venezuelan man on Saturday afternoon and chatted with hotel staff.
“Fidel Castro was here yesterday. He brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes,” Fuster said Sunday. She also said that she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the government-owned hotel.
“The hotel is confirming the comandante was here Saturday,” a hotel telephone operator who claimed that she saw Castro told El Nuevo Herald on Sunday. “It’s on the Internet. You can read the details there.”
Jaua later told foreign journalists at the hotel that he was the guest who was dropped off by Castro, and showed off the photo. Jaua recently gave up the vice presidency of Venezuela to run for a state governorship in upcoming regional elections.
Castro’s appearance should end the many rumors circulating over the past three weeks that he was dead or in a coma, hooked up to a breathing machine, suffering from bronchitis or in the final stages of dementia.
The rumors gained momentum after Castro failed to publicly congratulate Cuba’s top ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, on his Oct. 7 reelection, and after Venezuelan critics of Chávez claimed that they had inside sources on Castro’s failing health.
He had not been seen in public since his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in March at the Vatican’s diplomatic mission in Havana, and had not published one of his opinion columns, known as “reflections,” since the middle of June.
Earlier this month, Caracas journalist Nelson Bocaranda sent several Twitter messages saying that Castro was dying or had died and that the Cuban government would announce the death officially within 72 hours.
Marquina, who in the past has claimed to have inside information about Chávez’s bout with cancer, added gasoline to the fire last week when he was quoted as saying that Castro had “suffered an embolic stroke and recognizes absolutely no one.”
Castro’s son Alex declared on Oct. 12 that his father was well. His sister Juanita also told reporters in Miami that the rumors were false. And last week the state media published what was described as a message from Castro congratulating a medical school in Havana.
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told the ITAR-TASS news agency that Cuban officials had told him “there was no sad news” about Castro when he arrived in Havana for diplomatic consultations on Saturday.
Cuban diplomats in Washington did not return El Nuevo Herald phone calls seeking comments for this story. The Associated Press in Havana said that the Cuban government referred its questions to the Hotel Nacional.
Castro underwent emergency stomach surgery in 2006 that forced him to surrender power to his younger brother Raúl, at first temporarily and then officially in 2008. The nature of the surgery was never revealed — Castro’s health is considered a state secret in Cuba — but he once acknowledged that he nearly died.