Photo of Fidel Castro appears to disprove rumours of his death

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 23 October, 2012, 4:26am

It is still not known for certain whether Fidel Castro is dead, alive or somewhere in between.

But with rumours churning all last week that he was dead or nearly so, tantalising evidence that he is out and about in Havana surfaced on Sunday when a Venezuelan politician visiting Cuba said he had met the island's former leader for five hours and then showed off a picture of Castro smiling and dressed in a check shirt and straw hat, like the retiree he is.

"Fidel is very well," Elias Jaua, the former vice-president of Venezuela, Cuba's closest ally, said on Sunday, hours after the encounter.

It was the first publicly shown photograph of Castro, 86, since he appeared with Pope Benedict in March during his visit to Cuba, and it seemed to be part of an effort to end a deluge of rumours about Castro's health.

Of course, this being Castro and secretive Cuba, new whispers almost instantly sprouted over whether it was really him or if the photo was old or a fake.

The Cuban government did not release any photos itself.

But a spokesman for the Cuban embassy in Mexico City released a statement that included a news report about the encounter, a video of Jaua speaking to reporters, and his comment that Castro had engaged in an "animated" dialogue with employees at the hotel where he was dropping off Jaua.

Jaua said he took the picture on Saturday afternoon in a minibus carrying him, Castro and other guests to the landmark Hotel Nacional in Havana after a five-hour talk with the former Cuban leader.

The picture shows Castro smiling at the camera and making a gesture, surrounded by five guests, among them the director of the hotel, Antonio Martinez Rodriguez, and Castro's wife, Dalia Soto del Valle.

Castro did not seem to be in a vegetative state, hooked to a life-support machine or already dead, as rumours on social media had it last week, partly fed by a Venezuelan doctor in Miami who said he had heard that Castro had had a serious stroke and was terminally ill. The fact that Castro published a congratulatory note to medical students in a government newspaper on Thursday did little to dampen down the rumours.