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Cuban TV Shows Castro Looking Healthier

Fidel Castro looked alert and healthier in a surprise video aired on state television Friday, the first images released of the ailing 81-year-old Cuban leader in more than three months.

Officials broke into regularly scheduled programming to announce that an hour-long "conversation" with Castro, taped earlier in the day, would be shown.

In the video, Castro spoke slowly and softly, and didn't always look the interviewer in the eye. But he appeared to be thinking clearly.

CBS News producer Portia Siegelbaum reported from Havana that this morning, at the closing of a meeting on regional economic integration, two of Cuba's top leaders said Castro is recovering, being productive and keeping his hand on things.

In the interview, Siegelbaum notes, Castro focuses on international issues, warning that the world is threatened by a devastating economic crisis. He assailed the United States for trying to dominate the world's oil reserves, raw materials, technologies and communications, and paying for everything with a devalued dollar.

Castro also warned against military action towards Iran - "That would convert Iran into a terrible adversary," he said - one consequence of which would be the price of oil rising to more than $84 a barrel.

In regards to questions about his health, he said, "Here I am. They say I'm dead or I'm dying. Nobody knows when they will die."

It has been more than three months since the government has released photographs or videos showing Castro's progress, leading to a flurry of rumors of his demise in Miami and elsewhere in the United States. The Cuban leader's 81st birthday came and went on Aug. 13 with no new images of him appearing.

But Vice President Carlos Lage told reporters at an event in Havana on Friday that a series of essays Castro has signed every few days since late March are evidence his health remains strong.

"Fidel continues to recuperate. It's a productive recuperation as we can see in the press," said Lage, apparently referring to the publication of Castro's "Reflections of the Commander in Chief" essays in state newspapers.

Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque agreed, saying "Fidel is recovering with discipline and I think that he's having a productive work period, reading, studying, writing and keeping up with and participating in the country's principal decisions."

Castro has not been seen in public since July 31, 2006, when he announced that emergency intestinal surgery was forcing him to step down in favor of a provisional government headed by his younger brother Raul.

For months, official photographs and videos showed Castro's recovery, but no new images have surfaced since he appeared in an interview on Cuban television June 5.

Recovering in an undisclosed location, Castro's condition and exact ailment are state secrets, though he wrote in one of his essays that he had actually undergone multiple surgeries, at least one of which went poorly, delaying his recovery.

Castro also suggested he can't be bothered to trim his beard and comb his hair so as to appear in official images - possibly explaining why none have been released of late.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Castro's close friend and ally, said Friday in Brazil that the Cuban leader "has a little problem but he can live another 100 years with this little problem."

Castro had "three operations, and he's 81, imagine that. They changed almost all the blood with transfusions," Chavez said. "Fidel is alive because he is Fidel."

Back in Havana, at a separate gathering hours later, Ricardo Alarcon, president of the Cuban parliament, said he had no new information on Castro's health, but that "I trust Hugo Chavez a lot ... he knows what he's saying."

Alarcon said in March that he would nominate Castro to run for re-election to parliament ahead of elections next spring, the first step toward his securing another term as Cuba's president.

Whether or not Castro will actually seek re-election is unclear, however. His essays seem to indicate he is in little hurry to retake power.

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