HAVANA – Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Sunday spoke directly by telephone for an hour and 15 minutes with Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, who was broadcasting his weekly TV and radio show from the Cuban city of Santa Clara.
The phone chat came immediately after the showing of a new video with images of the meeting held on Saturday between Castro and Chávez – close friends, as well as political and international allies – in Havana. After the phone call, Chávez said, “He’s recovered,” referring to Castro.
The call was the first time that Cubans have been able to hear Castro speaking live and directly since he turned over his powers in July of last year.
Although he did not refer to his health in the phone call, Castro brought the conversation with Chávez to an end by saying that he needed to “take a pill, some things like that,” but he warned the Venezuelan that he was going to continue listening to the ongoing show.
“We’re winning,” said Castro just before hanging up.
In the videotape, which is some 17 minutes long, Castro – who is 81 and for the past 14 months has been convalescing from a serious intestinal illness – appears dressed in a track suit, looking somewhat thin but animated.
He is seated for most of the time, but stands for a few seconds to shake hands with Chávez.
In the video, the two leaders speak about the long-dead Argentine-born Cuban guerrilla leader Ernesto “Che” Guevara and the continuing appeal of his ideas in Latin America.
“The ideas of that revolution are sown throughout Latin America, and in today’s circumstances those ideas and that revolution Che was talking about are more prone than ever to spread,” Castro said in his conversation with Chávez that, according to local media, lasted four hours on Saturday afternoon.
“You’ll never die. You’ll remain forever on this continent and among these peoples … and this revolution of Che is more alive than ever and we’ll take charge of continuing to keep the flame alive,” said Chávez, who referred to Castro as the “father of the revolutionaries,” a “teacher,” and a “sower of consciences.”
The Cuban leader’s illness forced him to hand over power – ostensibly temporarily – on July 31, 2006, to his younger brother Raul. The last time he had appeared in public had been five days before that.
Chávez also announced the upcoming expansion of an oil refinery financed by Cuba and Venezuela in the central Cuban city of Cienfuegos.
Havana receives some 100,000 barrels of oil daily from Caracas at preferential prices that it pays for with medical, educational and sports training services as part of the Bolivarian Alternative for the Americas (ALBA), an alternative trade and development accord that also includes Nicaragua and Bolivia.
Trade between Caracas and Havana exceeds $1 billion per year and the figure could rise to $3 billion with the development of pending new accords,Venezuela’s envoy to Havana, Ali Rodríguez, announced recently.
Chávez also warned that his country will act if the Bolivian oligarchy deposes or assassinates President Evo Morales, claiming that he had information about conspiracies that have been hatched against Bolivia’s socialist government.
“We won’t stand there with our arms crossed” if Morales were to be deposed or killed, said Chávez, adding that “Bolivia is today a Vietnam” and that its “oligarchy” should be “very careful.”
Furthermore, Chávez went on to say that on Oct. 27, he would inaugurate in Venezuela the construction of a factory to produce ammunition and AK-103 rifles, a project going forward with Russian help.
Venezuela will thus become the only Latin American country to manufacture the assault rifles, which are used by 55 armies worldwide and numerous guerrilla movements or insurgencies.
Over the past two years, Venezuela has bought from Moscow about 50 helicopters, 100,000 AK-103 rifles and 24 Sukhoi-30 jet fighters for more than $3 billion, according to official Russian figures.