Fidel Castro speaks with student in ‘proof of life’ photos

SHAFAQNA – Cuba has published the first photos of Fidel Castro in more than five months, quashing rumours that the 88-year-old was on his death bed or dead already.Nearly two dozen images were released at midnight, featuring an apparently alert Castro sitting in a chair discussing current affairs with university student Randy Perdomo Garcia, the head of the main Cuban student union.

In some of the pictures Castro is holding a newspaper with a report on the release of three Cuban spies as part of the move by America and Cuba to restore diplomatic relations, announced on December 17.

Castro’s public appearances and statements have become increasingly infrequent since he stepped down from duties as president of Cuba after a serious illness in 2006, handing over leadership to his younger brother Raul.

His failure to issue a public statement until nearly a month after the announcement that Cuba and the US were moving to re-establish full diplomatic relations sparked intense speculation about his health.

Mr Perdomo Garcia writes in a lengthy article accompanying the photos that he spent more than three hours with the former president at Castro’s house, after an event marking 70 years since Castro started his studies at the University of Havana.

Castro appeared hale and alert, and revealed that he exercised each day and stayed up to date with current events, writes Mr Perdomo Garcia.

He said that their conversation ranged widely over everything from astronomy to Namibia’s donation of animals to Cuba’s national zoo.

“I’m about to go, but he continues a conversation about new ways of fighting some diseases, including diabetes, with the production of natural foods; about Cuba’s relations with Africa, from its contribution to those countries’ independence to the end of apartheid and the current contribution of Cuban doctors to the fight against Ebola,” Mr Perdomo Garcia wrote.

Mr Perdomo Garcia says the meeting took place on January 23, ten days before the photos were released.

The last photos of Castro were released in August, showing him talking to Nicolas Maduro, the Venezuelan President.

Yesterday a former bodyguard claimed that the late Hugo Chavez, Mr Maduro’s predecessor, had been dead for more than two months before his government admitted he had died.

Leamsy Salazar, who was the head of Chavez’s protection unit, said that the president actually died of cancer on December 30 2012, not on March 5 2013. If the claim is verified, dozens of laws said to have been “signed” by the president would cease to be valid.

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