Castro checks in with phone calls

From the Associated Press

Fidel Castro telephoned a meeting of provincial legislative leaders, the Communist Party daily said Saturday in a report apparently aimed at quelling rumors about the ailing Cuban leader's health.

Meanwhile, 10 visiting U.S. Congress members met with Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque and other officials, two weeks after acting leader Raul Castro offered to hold a dialogue with American officials on equal terms.

The call by Castro to provincial leaders Friday and another to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez the same day was the first news in 11 days about the convalescing 80-year-old, who has not been seen in public in more than four months.

Vice President Carlos Lage and National Assembly President Ricardo Alarcon were presiding over the Friday meeting of provincial assembly presidents when Castro called, the newspaper Granma reported. The full National Assembly is scheduled to hold a regular session this week to vote on the island's budget and other matters.

Chavez said in Caracas that Castro, a close friend and political ally, called him Friday to congratulate him on his reelection victory this month.

The last news about Castro was Dec. 5, when Granma published a typed letter signed by Castro congratulating Chavez on his electoral win. He has not been seen in public since July 26, five days before he announced that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery and was temporarily ceding his powers to his 75-year-old brother, Raul.

The U.S. group, led by Reps. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) and Bill Delahunt (D-Mass.), met Friday evening with Alarcon. On Saturday, the group was seen entering the Foreign Ministry for the meeting with Perez Roque.

"Everything is going well," Rep. Hilda L. Solis (D-El Monte) told reporters.

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