CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) _ Cuban leader Fidel Castro _ in his first live comments since falling ill more than six months ago _ declared on Tuesday that he feels ``more energetic, stronger'' and said his country is running smoothly without him at the helm.
Calling in to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's radio talk show, Castro said, ``I feel good and I'm happy.''
``I can't promise that I'll go over there soon, but, yes, I'm gaining ground. I feel more energetic, stronger,'' he told his close friend Chavez in a soft but steady voice during the live broadcast.
The 80-year-old Castro transferred control of Cuba's government to his brother Raul after undergoing intestinal surgery in July and dropped out of public view, fueling speculation about his condition.
In previous videos released by the Cuban government, Castro has been heard speaking but the comments were pre-taped.
In Tuesday's conversation, Castro mentioned a plunge in U.S. and Chinese stocks earlier in the day.
Castro thanked Chavez for spreading news about his health and complained that his supporters have ``the habit, the vice of getting news daily.''
He asked for patience as he recuperates, saying ``the country is marching along, which is what is important. And I ask for tranquility also for me so that I can fulfill my new tasks.''
The conversation Tuesday was not aired live in Cuba but, shortly afterward, Cuban state television broke into the regular nightly news program to broadcast the exchange.
``You don't know how happy we are to hear your voice and know that you're well,'' Chavez said with obvious surprise in his voice at the unexpected call.
The two leaders, who are close friends and allies, spoke for almost 30 minutes, although Castro told Chavez he had been listening in on the program for awhile.
Cuba's communist government has kept Castro's condition and exact ailment secret, and Chavez acknowledged that he has become an ``emissary'' for news of his health.
On Jan. 30, Havana released a video of Castro looking stronger than in previous images as he met with Chavez, which quelled growing speculation that he was gravely ill.
The Cuban government has sought to reassure Cubans after Castro ceded power for the first time in 47 years, saying his health is stable and the defense of the island guaranteed.
During the half-year since Castro announced his surgery, the communist-led country has been governed by Raul, 75, and a team of top leaders that includes Cuban Vice President and Cabinet Secretary Carlos Lage.
Alfredo Mesa, spokesman for the Cuban American National Foundation, said Castro is already part of the past.
``We need to stop worrying about Fidel Castro's health and focus more on the people in positions of power today that can bring about change for the Cuban people,'' Mesa said.
Chavez ended his conversation with his mentor telling him: ``We will win time and win the battle for life.''
``Fatherland or death. We will prevail!'' the two leaders repeated after each other.