Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he would visit ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana on Saturday night for Castro’s 80th birthday.
Castro handed over the reins of power in late July to his younger brother Raul following abdominal surgery.
“I announce that tomorrow I will be with Fidel celebrating,” Chavez said during a press conference at the nation’s electoral authority to kick off his re-election bid.
“I will be with him as of tonight in Havana. I’m taking him a good present, a good cake, and there we will celebrate the eighty years of that great figure of our America.”
Chavez, the most visible face of a resurgent Latin American left, has developed a close alliance with Cuba.
Venezuela, the world’s No. 5 oil exporter, has helped Cuba skirt an increasingly strict U.S. embargo by providing oil at preferential terms and boosting trade and cooperation efforts.
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Cuban President Fidel Castro is walking, talking and being briefed, according to a statement published on Saturday in the Communist Party daily, Granma, a day before his 80th birthday.
“Someone who visited the comandante a few hours ago to brief him on certain matters ... said he witnessed how the head of the revolution, after receiving a little physical therapy, walked in the room and later, sitting in a chair, engaged in an animated conversation,” Granma said.
Castro has not been seen publicly since he temporarily ceded power to his younger brother on July 31 because of complicated abdominal surgery. His last public appearance was on July 26.
His health is being treated as a state secret and there has been no information as to where he is being treated, who is visiting him or what his condition is.
“Our friend saw the comandante up and about, like someone anticipating new victories,” Granma said.
Cubans are used to Castro’s secretive ways and appear to accept the messages as fact, though many do hope they will get a glimpse of him on his birthday.
“I’m sure he is alive and recovering,” said Teresa, a middle-aged woman heading to work on Saturday. She declined to give her last name. “But it certainly would be reassuring to see him.”
Diplomats are not sure what to expect on Sunday, Castro’s birthday.
“He may give some sort of short radio address, but I don’t think he would want to show an image of frailty,” a European diplomat said.
Authorities want to turn the day into one of voluntary work in the fields and factories. The official media called Cubans to “a huge productive day this Sunday as a dignified present to Fidel and the motherland.”
Cubans are also being urged to donate blood and clean up their neighborhoods.
Dozens of musicians will perform on Saturday night on the “Anti-Imperialist Stage” opposite the U.S. diplomatic mission on Havana’s Malecon seafront boulevard. They plan to play through midnight and sing “Happy Birthday” to Castro.
Granma published an eight-page supplement of comments by world personalities over the years praising Castro as well as two longer profiles of the Cuban leader.
A documentary on Castro was to be broadcast on television in the Saturday night.
Major celebrations of his birthday were postponed until December 2, the 50th anniversary of his landing in eastern Cuba with a boatload of rebels to launch the guerrilla war that later brought him to power.