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Fidel Castro laughs off rumors of death in state media

  • Fidel Castro. (AFP)

HAVANA: Fidel Castro blasted reports of his death as trash, in a sarcastic editorial in state media after being seen outside his neighborhood for the first time in months amid a swirl of rumors he was dead or dying.

Castro, 86, who left power in a health crisis in 2006 after almost five decades at Cuba's helm, said US and international media had reported "the most singular garbage" about his health.

"I can't recall when I last had a headache," he claimed.

"As a sign of how untrue these reports are, I am sending a long a few photos with this article," Castro wrote, under the cheeky headline "Fidel Castro is on his death bed."

In the nine pictures, Castro is shown in a black and red checked shirt and blue sport trousers, in a field, wearing a jaunty farmer's hat to protect him from the sun.

Several show him using a cane to walk. The images ran Monday in state media. One of them shows him gazing at Friday's edition of the Communist Party newspaper Granma.

Fidel Castro also addressed his change in publishing habits; he stopped writing his column "Reflections" on June 19, which in itself fueled rumors he was unwell.

"I stopped publishing (my column) because surely it is not my job to fill up the pages of our press, which needs to address other work the country had to get done," Castro wrote.

Castro, who rose to power after the 1959 revolution, ceded the presidency to his younger brother Raul, 81, in July 2006 for health reasons.

Fidel Castro had not been seen since March 28, when Pope Benedict XVI paid a landmark visit to Cuba, and again briefly the following week on April 5 with Chilean student leader Camila Vallejo.

That fueled rumors his health had worsened, that he was dead or on his death bed -- particularly since Castro also had not published one of his usually frequent editorials in official state media since June 19.

In the past five years since falling ill after serious intestinal surgery, Castro has penned about 400 editorials as well as books about the revolution, and welcomed a few international leaders in private events.

Last week, he sent a letter of congratulation to medical school graduates which was picked up in state media, but he did not appear in public at the time.

With rumors about Castro's health rife abroad, one of his sons, photographer Alex Castro, said last week at an exhibit in Guantanamo of pictures he took of his father after 2010 that Castro "was in good shape, doing his daily activities, exercising, reading and taking care of himself."

Saturday Fidel Castro reappeared, meeting at a Havana hotel with a Venezuelan politician, former vice president Elias Jaua -- quashing rumors that the Cuban revolutionary icon was on his death bed.

The re-election of Chavez, 58, in Venezuela this month likely brought huge sighs of relief in Havana. For now, it can continue to count on Caracas' critical economic support, as Cuba presses to tap its own oil resources so as to fund the Americas' only Communist regime into the future.

Raul Castro assumed power in 2006 when Fidel stepped aside. The regime has been in crisis since the end of the Cold War and the demise of the Soviet Union, once its biggest patron. The nation of 11.2 million today relies heavily on the leftist government of oil-rich Venezuela for billions of dollars in support.

 
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