Wearing his now-trademark track suit, Fidel Castro smiles happily and appears to vigorously embrace his longtime friend, the president of Brazil.
The image, one of numerous photographs released Wednesday, shows the 83-year-old former Cuban leader looking healthier and stronger than at many points since he took ill with an undisclosed ailment 3 1/2 years ago.
Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who met with Castro behind closed doors Wednesday, described him as being "exceptionally well," Brazil's private Agencia Estado news agency reported, citing unidentified Silva aides.
Silva spent more than an hour discussing various topics with Castro, who ceded power to his younger brother Raul — first temporarily, then permanently — after undergoing emergency intestinal surgery in July 2006.
The meeting was closed to international news media based in Havana, but information about it was carried by Agencia Estado and Cuban state media.
Recent photographs released by Cuba's government have also shown a healthier-looking Fidel Castro.
Wednesday's images show a beaming Castro chatting with Silva and mugging for the camera with the Brazilian president's communications minister while Silva himself takes a photo.
The gray-bearded revolutionary was thought to be in far graver health — in fact, rumors of his imminent death were frequent — the last time Silva came to see him in January 2008.
This time, Silva felt Castro looked "much different" and improved, Agencia Estado reported.
Cuba's state television led its evening newscast with a report on the meeting, though it didn't broadcast any images of Castro until the 30-minute show's closing, when it displayed several still photographs of the former leader.
The report said Castro and Silva discussed several matters, including the U.N. climate conference in Copenhagen. After that conference, Castro released a string of essays strongly criticizing President Barack Obama for Washington's brokering of an accord that urges — but does not require — major polluters to make deeper emissions cuts.
Also visiting Cuba was socialist Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, another close friend and confidant of Fidel Castro. Silva, Chavez and Raul Castro had all been in the Mexican Caribbean city of Playa del Carmen on Tuesday for a Latin American and Caribbean "unity" summit.
There was no word on whether Fidel Castro met with Chavez, a frequent visitor to Cuba.
Before their meeting with Fidel Castro, Silva and Raul Castro donned guayabera dress shirts and traveled to the port city of Mariel, about 30 miles (50 kilometers) west of Havana, where Brazil's government is helping build a new port designed to handle full-size container ships.
The $600 million renovation is being split equally between Silva's government and Cuba. Brazil is Cuba's fourth-largest commercial partner, with nearly $700 million in trade between the two countries in 2008, the most current figures available.
Raul Castro became provisional president on July 31, 2006, and took over permanently two years ago Wednesday. But he played down the anniversary in comments to the news media.
Silva's comments were not the first recent indication Fidel Castro has turned the corner on his health.
During a visit to Havana in October, the director of the World Health Organization, Margaret Chan, met with him for more than two hours and said he was "wonderful" and "very dynamic."
Chan said at the time that Castro had more endurance than she did.
"I'm younger than him and I felt tired when he wasn't," she said.
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