Recovering Castro meets Chinese party leader

HAVANA (Reuters) - Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro, who has not appeared in public for almost nine months, met with a high-ranking Chinese Communist Party official for an hour on Friday, Cuban state media said.

Cuban leader Fidel Castro (R) meets Wu Guanzheng (L), a member of the Standing Committee of China's Communist Party Politburo in Havana April 20, 2007. Convalescing Cuban leader Fidel Castro met Guanzheng for one hour on Friday, Cuban television said. The meeting with the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Cuba in more than a year was the latest sign that Castro, who relinquished power temporarily to his brother last July after emergency stomach surgery, was recovering steadily and resuming some government duties. Picture taken April 20, 2007. REUTERS/Juventud Rebelde/Handout

Pictures published on Saturday by Cuban newspapers showed a recovering Castro meeting with Wu Guanzheng, a member of the Standing Committee of China’s Communist Party Politburo.

One photograph published in Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma showed the 80-year-old Cuban leader, who wore a track suit, sitting next to Wu as a young Chinese interpreter takes notes. Another shows them shaking hands.

The meeting with the highest-ranking Chinese official to visit Cuba in more than a year was the latest sign that Castro, who relinquished power temporarily to his brother in July after emergency stomach surgery, is resuming some government duties.

Wu handed Castro a letter from Chinese President Hu Jintao that expressed the “excellent ties” that have been developed between the two nations, state television said in a Friday evening newscast.

Castro, who last appeared in public on July 26, has received foreign visitors in private, including several heads of state during the summit of the Non-Aligned Movement of developing countries in Havana in September.

Castro’s medical condition is a state secret. He is thought to have undergone surgery for diverticulitis, or bulges in the large intestine that can cause inflammation and bleeding.

Video footage released last year showed him looking very frail. But Cuban officials now say he is well on the way to recovery and gradually getting more involved in leading the country again.

In January, Castro was seen in a video clip sipping orange juice and chatting with his main political ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

Last month Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper published the first photograph of Castro outdoors, taking a stroll in a garden with Colombian Nobel prize-winning author and close friend Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Castro, who seized power in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, is the last of the major Cold War players still in government.

Wu arrived on Thursday for a four-day visit to boost political and trade ties between the two communist allies. He also met with Cuba’s acting president and Defense Minister Raul Castro, who has run Cuba since his brother became ill.

China last year became Cuba’s second biggest trading partner after Venezuela, with two-way trade doubling to almost $1.8 billion, due mostly to China’s exports of machinery, vehicles and consumer goods financed with Chinese credit.

Wu is the most senior official from China to visit Cuba since Lou Gan, another Politburo member, visited in December 2005, and Hu’s visit in November 2004.

Relations between Beijing and Havana took off after the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991.