MIAMI -- Fidel Castro, the former ruler of Cuba, appeared at Havana's Hotel Nacional and met with Venezuela's former vice president, according to reports Sunday, his first public sightings since March and evidence that rumors of his ill health were wrong.
Fidel was kind enough to receive us (Saturday). We spoke for five hours, and then Castro drove him to the Hotel Nacional, Elias Jaua told journalists in Havana. Fidel is very well.
Jaua also displayed a photo he said was taken Saturday at the hotel showing him with the 86-year-old Castro; Castro's wife Dalia Soto del Valle; the director of the Nacional, Juan Antonio Martinez; and two unidentified women inside a van.
Jose Marquina, the Venezuelan doctor in Naples, Fla. who fueled the rumors of a Castro health emergency with a claim last week that unidentified sources had told him the Cuban revolutionary had suffered an embolic stroke, said he did not believe the latest reports.
The information that I have is that it was a maid who claimed to have seen him. This is a fabrication. Marquina told El Nuevo Herald. If you're going to believe the communists, who have been lying forever, that's OK. I don't believe them.
The Associated Press bureau in Havana, which first reported Castro's visit to the Nacional, quoted hotel commercial director Yamila Fuster as saying he dropped off an unidentified Venezuelan man Saturday afternoon and chatted with hotel staff.
Fidel Castro was here yesterday. He brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes, Fuster told the AP. She added that she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the government-owned hotel.
The hotel is confirming the comandante was here Saturday, said a telephone operator at the hotel who claimed that she saw Castro. It's on the Internet. You can read the details there.
Jaua later told foreign journalists at the hotel that he was the guest dropped off by Castro, and showed off the photo. Jaua recently gave up the vice presidency of Venezuela to run for a state governorship in upcoming regional elections.
Castro's appearance should end rumors circulating during the past three weeks that the he was dead or in a coma, or hooked up to a respirator, or suffering from bronchitis or in the final stages of dementia.
He had not been seen in public since his meeting with Pope Benedict XVI in March at the Vatican's diplomatic mission in Havana, and had not published one of his opinion columns, known as reflections, since the middle of June.
Castro's son Alex said on Oct. 12 that his father was well, His sister Juanita told reporters in Miami that the rumors of his demise were false. And last week the state media published what was described as a message from Castro congratulating a medical school in Havana.
Russian First Deputy Foreign Minister Andrei Denisov told the ITAR-TASS news agency that Cuban officials had told him that there was no sad news about Castro when he arrived in Havana on Saturday for diplomatic consultations.
Yet the rumors continued to swirl, especially after Castro failed to publicly congratulate Cuba's top ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, on his Oct. 7 re-election, and Venezuelan critics of Chavez claimed they had inside sources on Castro's health.
Earlier this month, Caracas journalist Nelson Bocaranda sent several Twitter messages saying that Castro was dying or had had died and that the Cuban government would announce the death officially within 72 hours.
Marquina, who in the past has claimed to have inside information about Chavez's bout with cancer, added gasoline to the fire last week when he was quoted as saying that Castro had suffered an embolic stroke and recognizes absolutely no one.
Cuban diplomats in Washington did not return phone calls. The Associated Press in Havana said the Cuban government referred all its questions to the Hotel Nacional.
Castro underwent emergency stomach surgery in 2006 that forced him to surrender power to his younger brother Raul, at first temporarily and then permanently in 2008. The nature of the surgery was never revealed - Castro's health is considered a state secret in Cuba - but he once acknowledged that he nearly died.
His visit to the Nacional was clearly designed to be noticed because it is Havana's best-known hotel, a virtual institution in the heart of the capital that has long been the favorite of important foreign visitors.