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Cuba's Castro nearly died but is OK now: Chavez

MANAUS, Brazil (Reuters) - Cuban leader Fidel Castro nearly died and underwent several blood transfusions in which almost all his blood was exchanged, but he is now doing well, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Friday.

Cuba's leader Fidel Castro addresses the crowd during a May Day parade in Havana in this May 1, 2004 file photo. REUTERS/Claudia Daut/Files

It was not clear if Chavez was talking about a recent relapse in the health of Castro, 81, or if he was recounting complications that he suffered after undergoing emergency surgery more than a year ago due to an intestinal problem.

“Fidel is well, clearly he has not finished his recovery. He has a little problem there but he can live like this another 100 years,” Chavez told reporters during a visit to Brazil’s Amazon city of Manaus.

“What problem does he have? Well, one operation, two operations, three operations, 81-years-old, he almost died. They transfused nearly all Fidel’s blood, he is still alive because he’s Fidel. They gave him I don’t know how many transfusions,” said Chavez, a close friend and ally of the veteran communist.

Castro relinquished power to his brother Raul on July 31, 2006 after he fell ill and has not appeared in public since then.

Video footage of meetings with Chavez and other foreign leaders appeared to show a steady improvement in his health early this year but no footage or pictures have been released since early June, fueling speculation that his condition may have worsened.

Senior Cuban officials said on Thursday that the Cuban leader, who seized power in Cuba’s 1959 revolution, continues to recover from his health crisis, but they gave no indication he would return to office.

Vice President Carlos Lage said Castro’s recovery was evident from his prolific output of newspaper columns and essays on international issues and political history.

“Fidel is recovering,” Foreign Minister Felipe Perez Roque told reporters in Havana. “It has been a fertile period of work, reading, studying and writing, while keeping in touch with and being involved in the country’s main decisions, on which he is consulted,” he said.

Castro’s illness remains a closely guarded state secret.

Chavez, who visited Castro in June for six hours, said he last spoke with his political mentor two or three weeks ago and that Venezuela’s energy minister spoke with Castro last week.

Chavez was in Manaus for a meeting with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva and Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa.