Cuban hotel official: Fidel Castro appears in public

Cuban hotel official: Fidel Castro appears in public
Fidel Castro (Feb. 2012 file photo)
HAVANA (AP) - Fidel Castro has appeared in public for the first time in months, a top hotel executive told The Associated Press on Sunday, challenging persistent rumors that the aging revolutionary is near death.

The 86-year-old leader dropped off a Venezuelan guest at the Hotel Nacional on Saturday afternoon, then stayed for about half an hour to chat with hotel staff, commercial director Yamila Fuster said.

"Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes," Fuster said. She said she was not present but that the news was being released officially by the state-owned establishment.

"They told me he looked very good. He was wearing a checked shirt and a hat," she said.

Fuster would not release the name of the Venezuelan guest, but witnesses at the hotel say former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua is staying there. A car with Venezuelan diplomatic plates was parked Sunday outside the hotel.

No photos have yet been released, but Fuster said they may be soon.

Asked to confirm the news, the Cuban government referred all questions to the hotel.

The Nacional is Cuba's most famous hotel and a common choice of many distinguished guests to the island.

Castro's health has been the subject of intense speculation in recent days. He has not appeared on television or publically since March, when he was shown greeting visiting Pope Benedict XVI.