Castro speaks live on TV
SANTA CLARA, Cuba, Oct 15 (AFP) - Cubans
heard their ailing President Fidel Castro
joking and chattering as he spoke live for
the first time in months on a television
show hosted by his Venezuelan ally Hugo
In his first live broadcast in Cuba since
he was sidelined by an unspecified illness
15 months ago, Castro spoke by telephone
for an hour and 22 minutes on a variety
of topics, including the state of his health
and the challenges of life in the shadow
of the United States.
"Everyone is electrified to hear you,"
Chavez told the convalescing Cuban leader
on his program "Hello Mr. President,"
broadcast for five hours Sunday in both
Cuba and Venezuela.
Castro has kept out of sight since undergoing
intestinal surgery and ceding power to his
brother Raul in July 2006, communicating
through regular articles in the communist
regime's official newspapers.
He took part in an earlier broadcast of
Chavez's program by phone in February, but
that aired live only in Venezuela.
This time, however, he went to great lengths
to persuade fellow Cubans and other viewers
his appearance was genuine.
"I can see you are moving your left
hand, and I know you are left-handed. And
now I can see you laughing," Castro
said to Chavez, to persuade skeptics that
the broadcast was indeed live.
Apparently to the same end, the two discussed
the most recent oil prices and joked about
their joint foe, US President George W.
"This gentleman crosses to the other
side of the street when he sees me,"
Castro said of Bush.
"He is too powerful to speak with
the devil, with an axis of evil. And you,
Hugo, and I represent an axis of evil,"
he added, using a term Bush once applied
to certain rogue states.
"Don't even think of mentioning to
anybody, not even as a joke, that I speak
to Lucifer," the Cuban leader concluded.
Switching to a more serious tone, he argued
with satisfaction that "the tyrannical
power" -- a term he usually reserves
for the United States -- "is now facing
new multiple Vietnams."
The Venezuelan president underscored ever
closer ties between his country and Cuba,
saying: "Deep down, we are one government."
Chavez later proposed building a petrochemical
plant in the southern central Cuban city
of Cienfuegos, where he traveled after the
show. He said he would discuss it with Raul
Castro at a meeting on Monday.
Venezuela is a key trading partner and
oil supplier to Cuba, which has been under
a tight embargo by the United States for
more than 40 years. A 1.4 billion-dollar
oil refinery renovated with its help is
to open in Cienfuegos in December.
Earlier in the show, Chavez showed a new
video of Castro recorded during a four-hour
meeting between them Saturday. Castro, dressed
in a red, blue and white sports suit, was
shown chatting with Chavez.
The official communist newspaper Juventud
Rebelde on Sunday published photographs
from the meeting.
One showed the 81-year-old Castro seated
next to Chavez and leafing through a book
with a picture of the revolutionary icon
Ernesto "Che" Guevara on its cover.
The other showed him standing, shaking hands
Chavez was broadcasting the show from Cuba
to mark the 40th anniversary this week of
the arrest and execution of Guevara, Castro's
comrade-in-arms during the revolutionary
struggle that brought him to power in 1959.
As in previous appearances, Castro -- who
last month was briefly rumored to be dead
-- appeared frail but apparently recovered
to some degree from his illness.
"As you have seen in the pictures,
Fidel is in very good spirits and has lots
of color ... his beard is well trimmed,
he has immeasurable spirit and mystique,"
After admitting he was on medication, Castro
signed off from the phone call with the
words, "always, all the way to victory."
This revolutionary exhortation was the
signoff used by Che in his letters, later
adopted by Fidel to encourage Cubans during
his government's resistance to US political