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Castro health rumors denied

Cuban leader Fidel Castro looks healthy, and he praised U.S. President Obama, visiting Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner said Wednesday.

Her comments came after recent speculation that the 82-year-old former president was near death. He hasn’t appeared publicly since he had major intestinal surgery in July 2006, and rumors intensified after he suspended his newspaper columns last month.

Conjecture that Castro’s health had deteriorated also flared last week after his close friend, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, said it was unlikely that the former leader would appear in public again.

President Raul Castro, who accompanied Fernandez to the airport, dismissed talk that his older brother’s health had worsened.

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“Now you know that Fidel is fine,” he said, adding that his brother spends days “exercising, thinking and reading a lot, advising me, helping me.”

“You think if he were gravely ill that I’d be smiling here?” Castro told reporters. “Soon I’m going to take a trip to Europe. You think I would leave here if Fidel were really in grave condition?”

The younger Castro did not say why his brother’s columns in the official press had stopped but said they would return soon.

The Associated Press reported later that Fidel Castro wrote in a statement posted on a government website that he “did not have the slightest doubt of the honesty of Obama . . . when he expresses his ideas.”

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Curiously, the state-run Cuban newscast Wednesday evening covered Fernandez’s visit in detail but did not mention her meeting with Fidel.

Fernandez told reporters that she and Fidel Castro met behind closed doors Wednesday for at least an hour. She said he seemed healthy and spent the day before watching televised coverage of the Obama inauguration.

“We talked a lot about Obama,” she said. “He had a very good impression of Obama and he seemed to believe in what he said.”

It was the elder Castro’s first reported meeting with a foreign leader since November.

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sanchez@tribune.com


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