Tue, Aug 15, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Castro cautious about pace of recovery

AGENCIES , HAVANA

Ailing Cuban President Fidel Castro said his recovery could take time and cautioned Cubans to be ready for bad news, while acting president Raul Castro stepped into his brother's public role by greeting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez as he arrived for a visit.

With the iconic revolutionary leader Fidel recuperating from surgery, state television showed his brother Raul, 75, relaxed and smiling and in a warm embrace with the leftist Venezuelan leader, Cuba's staunchest international ally.

No audio was heard as Raul Castro greeted Chavez on Sunday.

It was the first time the bespectacled Raul Castro was seen since his bearded brother handed Cuba's leadership to him on July 31 for the first time in almost 48 years.

Meanwhile, Fidel Castro appeared in photographs to reassure Cubans he was still alive on his 80th birthday. Raul Castro met Chavez, a top Cuba ally, with a salute and a hug at the Havana airport.

The communist youth newspaper Juventud Rebelde published what it said were current pictures of Fidel Castro, along with a cautionary message attributed to the leader saying he faced a long recovery.

"I suggest you be optimistic and, at the same time, always prepared to receive bad news," he said in his message.

"To say the stability has improved considerably is not to tell a lie. To say that the period of recovery will be short and there is now no risk would be absolutely incorrect," Castro said in the message posted on the youth daily's Web site.

In Caracas, a brief statement from Chavez's office said the Venezuelan leader had a "private meeting" on Sunday afternoon with Raul Castro and Vice President Carlos Lage, adding that Chavez was heading to Jamaica yesterday for a meeting with Prime Minister Portia Lucretia Simpson-Miller.

In Bolivia, President Evo Morales sang "Happy Birthday, comandante" to Castro on Sunday and vowed to take him a birthday cake made with coca leaves -- the raw material used to make cocaine.

News that their leader had reappeared and was on the mend came as a relief to many Cubans worried his death could create upheaval in one of the world's last communist outposts.

Others were more skeptical about the picture and thought his condition was worse than the nation was being told.

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