HAVANA — Former Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua said Sunday that he met with Fidel Castro for five hours and showed the Associated Press photos of the encounter, quashing persistent rumors that the former Cuban leader was on his deathbed or had suffered a massive stroke.
Jaua also said the 86-year-old retired Cuban president personally accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after their meeting Saturday, in which they talked about politics, history, culture and tourism.
"He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel," Jaua said Sunday, adding that Castro looked "very well."
Jaua showed a photograph of himself seated in a minibus along with the former Cuban leader; Castro's wife, Dalia Soto del Valle; a hotel executive; and several other people. The photo shows Jaua and Castro smiling, and the former Cuban leader is wearing a cowboy hat.
The public appearance was Castro's first in months. A top Hotel Nacional executive told the AP earlier Sunday how Castro had dropped off the Venezuelan guest, then stayed on to chat with hotel staff.
"Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes," commercial director Yamila Fuster said. Fuster was not present, but hotel director Antonio Martinez is seated next to Castro in Jaua's photo.
Castro's health has been the subject of intense speculation for years, but rumors gained force recently after he failed to publicly congratulate Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, a top ally, on his Oct. 7 win.
Twitter and other social media sites have been abuzz with claims of Castro's demise. A Venezuelan doctor purported to have information that Castro had suffered a stroke, but the same doctor has previously made false claims.