Fidel Castro Looks Healthier In First Official Video In 3 Months

Friday, September 21st 2007, 7:34 pm
By: News On 6

HAVANA (AP) _ Fidel Castro looked alert and healthier during an hour-long interview taped and aired on Cuban television Friday, responding to rumors of his death with a defiant ``here I am.''

In the first video of the ailing 81-year-old seen in more than three months, a pale but upbeat Castro wore a red, blue and white jumpsuit with ``F. Castro'' in small block letters. The Cuban leader stayed seated the entire time, spoke slowly and softly and didn't always look the interviewer in the eye. But he appeared to be thinking clearly.

He warned that the Bush administration could go to war with Iran, and bemoaned the high cost of the war in Iraq, but provided no new details about his health, except to say, ``Well, here I am.''

Mocking persistent rumors of his death that have circulated in Miami and elsewhere in the United States, he said ``they say 'I was dying' and 'if I die' and 'I will die the day after tomorrow' or something.''

``Nobody knows the day they are going to die,'' he said.

Early on, Castro often trailed off mid-sentence, and needed some prompting by the interviewer. He had bags under his eyes, sunken cheeks and his thin gray beard looked as wispy as ever. But he appeared to get stronger and more comfortable as time passed.

Officials broke into regularly scheduled programming only minutes earlier to announce that a ``conversation'' with Castro would be shown.

Castro mentioned the price of oil and the value of the euro against the dollar, evidence that the video was recorded Friday, as Cuban officials said.

``Yesterday the euro was at $1.41. Oil I think about $84 a barrel,'' Castro said.

He also held up a copy of the new book by former U.S. Federal Reserve chairman Alan Greenspan. At one point he quoted it, reading excerpted passages in very large type instead of using the book itself.

He also spoke about a wandering essay he wrote that was published in state media on Wednesday.

Castro has not been since in public since July 31, 2006, when he announced that emergency intestinal surgery was forcing him to step down in favor of a provisional government headed by his younger brother Raul.

As he recovers in an undisclosed location, Castro's condition and exact ailment are state secrets, though he wrote in one of his essays that he had undergone multiple surgeries, at least one of which went poorly.

For months, official photographs and videos showed Castro's recovery, but no new images had surfaced since he appeared in an interview on Cuban television June 5.

Earlier Friday, Vice President Carlos Lage told reporters that the essays Castro has signed every few days since late March are evidence that his health is strong.

``Fidel continues to recuperate. It's a productive recuperation as we can see in the press,'' said Lage, apparently referring to the publication in state newspapers of Castro's ``Reflections of the Commander in Chief.''

Also Friday, Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque said that ``Fidel is recovering with discipline and I think that he's having a productive work period _ reading, studying, writing and keeping up with and participating in the country's principal decisions.''

Castro had suggested he can't be bothered to trim his beard or comb his hair _ possibly explaining why so few official images have been released.

In Venezuela, friend and ally President Hugo Chavez announced that Castro was speaking on Cuban state television.

``A long life to Fidel and the Cuban revolution,'' the Venezuela leader said in a speech.

Earlier while traveling in Brazil, Chavez said Castro was ``close to death'' but underwent several operations and has regained weight.

Castro had ``three operations, and he's 81, imagine that. They changed almost all the blood with transfusions. Fidel is alive because he is Fidel,'' Chavez said.