HAVANA (AP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is getting "much better" after undergoing a fourth cancer operation in December, according to the president's friend and retired revolutionary leader Fidel Castro in comments published Monday in Cuban newspapers.
Castro spoke to official media Sunday when he appeared at a Havana polling station to cast his vote in parliamentary elections. He said he gets daily updates on Chavez's condition.
"He is much better, recovering. It has been a tough struggle, but he has been improving," Castro was quoted as saying by Communist Party newspaper Granma. "We have to cure him. Chavez is very important for his country and for Latin America."
Chavez has not been seen or heard from in public since his Dec. 11 surgery in Cuba, and on Jan. 10 missed his scheduled inauguration for a new term as president.
Officials have not disclosed details of his cancer other than to say that it was in the pelvic region, leading to much rumor and speculation about his condition.
Castro has also rarely been seen since a grave intestinal illness forced him from the presidency in 2006. His last public appearance was in October when he showed up at a Havana hotel with a top Venezuelan official, quashing the latest round of rumors that he was supposedly at death's door.
The retired Cuban leader reportedly bantered with official media for an hour and a half Sunday, walking slowly and cautiously up a ramp with ballots in hand. Foreign journalists were not invited to cover the encounter.
Photos showed Castro dressed in a plaid shirt and black jacket, seeming a bit stooped but alert and smiling as he posed for pictures with polling station workers and children.
Asked about a recent summit of a fledgling bloc of Latin American and Caribbean nations, Castro called it "a very important step for unity, of which Hugo Chavez has been one of the principal architects."