HAVANA: Cuba’s retired leader Fidel Castro has been seen in photographs for the first time in five months, meeting with a student leader in an apparent bid to scotch rumors about his health.
The pictures first released late Monday by state media showed Castro, 88, with his grey hair and beard, wearing a blue tracksuit and checkered shirt as he sat on a chair in his house along with his wife, Dalia Soto del Valle.
Castro, who stepped down after falling ill in 2006, is seen reading a newspaper, watching television, smiling and talking with Randy Perdomo Garcia, head of the pro-government University Students Federation.
The daily Granma ran the pictures with the headline “Fidel Is Extraordinary.” An accompanying article written by Perdomo says the meeting took place on January 23.
Calming the rumor mill
Speculation about Castro’s health ran wild online after he initially remained quiet when his brother, President Raul Castro, and US President Barack Obama announced in December that they would restore diplomatic relations after a half-century of enmity.
Fidel Castro finally broke his silence about the thaw in relations on January 26, writing a letter that suggested that he did not oppose his brother’s decision even though he does not trust the United States.
The last time he was seen in public was January 8, 2014, when he attended an art gallery opening near his home. The last pictures of Castro were published in mid-August 2014.
Rumors of Castro’s demise have cropped up often since he stepped down from office during his 2006 health crisis and handed power to Raul, the longtime armed forces chief.
“The pictures of his meeting with Randy Perdomo Garcia seek to calm these rumors a bit,” Jorge Duany, a Cuba expert at Florida International University, told Agence France-Presse.
“The most interesting part of the meeting is the visual association of the young Perdomo with the octogenarian former president, who started his political career as a student leader at Havana University,” Duany said.
“In some ways, it seeks to evoke the glorious past of Fidel as younger, strong and healthy,” he added.