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Posted September 01, 2006 by publisher in Castro's Cuba

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Cuban President Fidel Castro, looking notably better than he did when last seen almost three weeks ago, happily greeted Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez during a brief visit aired on state television Friday.

“Brother!” the 80-year-old Castro said from his sickbed, his face lighting up as Chavez entered the room Friday where he was recuperating and gave him a warm embrace.

“Gentleman of the heroic resistance!” the Venezuelan president responded with a smile to his good friend and ally.

“What joy!” Castro said after sitting up on his bed.

“A million thanks!”

Chavez has now visited Castro three times since the Cuban leader announced July 31 he had intestinal surgery and was provisionally ceding power to his brother, Raul Castro, the defence minister.

The specifics of Castro’s ailment and the nature of his surgery have been treated as a state secret.

Dressed in red pyjamas, Castro appeared much more animated and alert on the video than in those made when Chavez made his first post-surgery visit to the Cuban leader Aug. 13, his 80th birthday.

During the earlier visit, Castro was more lethargic and did not even move his head from the pillow. And it was difficult to make out his words.

The Venezuelan president visited Castro a second time during a brief stop in late August before he launched his foreign tour.

On Friday Chavez said: “I note an improvement in the patient!”

A Cuban family watches Cuban President Fidel Castro, right, and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez on television during a surprise visit by Chavez, Friday, Sept. 1, 2006, in Havana, Cuba. (AP Photo/ Jorge Rey)

Stopping in Cuba on his way back to Venezuela as he returned from an extensive tour of China, Malaysia, Syria and Angola, Chavez told Castro people in the places he visited are praying for his recovery, even in the mountains of China.

“We all need you,” Chavez said during the visit as both wrote messages to each other that they later read aloud.

In his message, Castro congratulated Chavez on his visit abroad. He told Chavez he represents a new era which “brings forth brilliant, audacious and courageous statesmen with new ideas like you.”

After Castro stepped aside, U.S. officials urged Chavez to help push for “democratic changes” in Cuba. Chavez argues the United States - not Cuba - needs a transition to democracy.

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