HAVANA: Cuban state media have released the first photographs of former president Fidel Castro in nearly six months in a bid to quiet rumours that his health is failing.
The images showed the 88-year-old Castro at his home along with his wife Dalia during a meeting with the leader of a students' union, and were published in the state-run newspaper Granma and other official media late yesterday.
Castro had remained quiet publicly after the United States and Cuba announced in December that they were going to restore diplomatic relations after a half century of enmity stemming from the Cold War.
That silence prompted chatter on social media and in foreing media that Castro was sick or even had died.
The article accompanying the new photos said the meeting took place January 23. The headline says, "Fidel is extraordinary." The photos show Castro wearing a blue sweat-suit with a blue-checked collared shirt.
The images come after weeks of feverish speculation concerning the Cuban revolutionary leader's medical condition after he appeared to disappear from the public eye.
The last time he was seen in public was January 8, 2014, when he attended an art gallery opening near his home.
Swirling rumours of Castro's demise have cropped up often since he stepped down from office during a health crisis in 2006.
Raul Castro, the longtime armed forces chief, took his brother's place at Cuba's helm. The Granma article said that the meeting between Castro and the student leader came four days before Castro finally broke his silence on the diplomatic breakthrough with the US and said that, although he was wary of his old enemy Washington, he did not oppose it and viewed the historic change as a "positive step."
Perdomo said his talks with Castro were as if he were talking to an old friend. He said he got a call the night before from Castro and was moved when he finally heard a voice he had often heard from afar.
"How are you, Randy,?" said Castro, according to Perdomo. He said they talked about the articles that Castro has published in Granma, and about astronomy and the importance of science in human advancement. Last week the communist leader met with a Brazilian theologian, Frei Betto, who advocates liberation theology - the idea that it is the Catholic church's responsibility to help the poor.
"The commander is in good health and in good spirits," Betto said the next day. But no photos of the meeting were published. Castro took notes on what Betto said, according to the Brazilian.