Castro scoffs at death rumors: 'I don't even remember what a headache is'
Patrick Oppmann, CNN
Havana -- Cuba has stepped up efforts to douse speculation over the health of its former leader Fidel Castro by publishing an article under his name in state-run media in which he scoffs at recent rumors and those who circulated them.
The article, published on the official website Cubadebate early Monday, is accompanied by photos of Castro, 86, walking with a cane in a garden and looking at a copy of Granma, the state-run newspaper.
"I don't even remember what a headache is," Castro writes in the article, saying the photos are "proof of what liars" those responsible for the rumors are.
The article comes after a former Venezuelan vice president said Sunday that Castro was "doing very well" and showed reporters a snapshot of the former Cuban leader that he said was taken the day before.
Speculation has surged over Castro's health in recent weeks. He has not been seen publicly since March, when he met with Pope Benedict XVI during the pontiff's visit to Cuba.
In the article published early Monday, Castro cites the coverage of the Bay of Pigs attack and the Cuban missile crisis in the early 1960s as previous examples of misinformation by news media groups that are "almost all in the hands of the privileged and rich."
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He singled out for particular scorn a recent report by the Spanish newspaper ABC that cited a Venezuelan doctor as saying that Castro had had a stroke and was close to death.
Elias Jaua, the former Venezuelan vice president, said Sunday he had discussed a variety of subjects with the former Cuban leader in a lengthy meeting.
"Comandante Fidel was kind enough to meet with us yesterday," Jaua said. "We talked for five hours about agriculture, history, international politics."
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The photograph, Jaua said, shows Castro and several members of his family in a van accompanying Jaua to the Havana hotel where he is staying.
Employees at the Hotel Nacional said they spoke with Castro and he looked well.
"He had good color. ... He was happy, with a permanent smile on his face, and talking about a lot of things," said Antonio Martinez, the director of the government-run hotel.
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On Wednesday, Cuban state media released the first communique said to be from the ex-leader since speculation over his health reached a fever pitch earlier this month.
The message quoted Castro congratulating doctors graduating from a Cuban medical institute and mentioning the 50th anniversary of the Cuban missile crisis.
Castro's usually frequent newspaper columns and musings suddenly ended in June. But his silence after the re-election of close ally Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in October prompted many of his opponents to wonder whether Castro was again ailing or perhaps already dead.
"The comandante is well, following his daily routine, reading, exercising," said Alex Castro, one of Castro's sons, told Cuban state media after the reports of his ill health.
Still, a barrage of postings on Twitter and other social media had Castro at death's door.
He said in the article Monday that he had stopped his newspaper writing because it was no longer his "role to take up the pages of our press" when there were other issues requiring the nation's attention.
Castro never fully recovered after a surgery for a still unknown intestinal illness in 2006. Two years later, his brother Raul Castro officially succeeded him.
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