Belfast Telegraph

Friday 22 August 2014

Fidel Castro held hotel meeting

A picture of Cuba's leader Fidel Castro is seen at a polling station in Havana (AP)

Former Venezuelan vice president Elias Jaua has said that he met with ageing revolutionary icon Fidel Castro for five hours and showed reporters photos of the encounter.

The encounter is designed to squash recent persistent rumours that the former Cuban leader was on his deathbed.

Mr Jaua also confirmed that the 86-year-old retired president personally accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after their meeting. "He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel," Mr Jaua said.

The public appearance was Castro's first in month. A top Hotel Nacional executive said Castro had dropped off the Venezuelan guest, then stayed on to chat with hotel staff.

"Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes," commercial director Yamila Fuster said. She said she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the state-owned establishment.

"They told me he looked very good. He was wearing a checked shirt and a hat," she said.

Ms Fuster would not release the name of the Venezuelan guest, but witnesses at the hotel said Mr Jaua was staying there. A car with Venezuelan diplomatic plates was parked outside the hotel, and Cuban officials were seen carrying a photo album similar to ones the government gives as gifts to distinguished guests, normally filled with official pictures.

No photos have yet been released of Fidel's visit, but Ms Fuster said they may be soon. Asked to confirm the news, the Cuban government referred all questions to the hotel, which is Cuba's most famous hotel and a common choice of many distinguished guests to the island.

Mr Castro's health has been the subject of intense speculation for years, but the rumours gained force in recent days after he failed to publicly congratulate Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, a top ally, on his October 7 electoral victory.

The former Cuban leader has not appeared since March, when he was shown greeting visiting Pope Benedict XVI, and he has also ceased writing his once-constant opinion pieces, the last of which appeared in June.

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