Castro wishes Chavez well in 1st essay in a month

Venezuelan Prez is recovering in Cuba following surgery that he recently revealed was for cancer.

Havana: Fidel Castro ended a more than month-long silence on Sunday to praise convalescing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who is recovering in Cuba following surgery that he recently revealed was for cancer.

Castro lauded Cuba`s medical system and its collaboration with Venezuela to treat people in the latter nation, wrote of his country`s "close and indestructible friendship" with Chavez and said, "Let`s give him the strongest support and confidence”.

The former Cuban president said Chavez has worked almost without stopping since taking office in 1999, so it was only natural that his health would suffer.

Chavez arrived in Cuba on June 08 for what ostensibly was a previously scheduled visit. He has said he underwent an initial surgery June 11 to have a pelvic abscess removed, and doctors determined a subsequent operation was needed to remove a cancerous "abscessed tumour" from his pelvic region.

After 18 days out of sight, the Venezuelan leader announced on Thursday that he had the second surgery to remove the tumour. Neither he nor officials have given details about what kind of cancer he had, or provided a timetable for his return to Caracas.

"Without hesitation I affirm that the results are impressive, and I did not hesitate to affirm that the patient has undertaken a decisive battle that will lead him, and with him Venezuela, to a great victory," Castro wrote.

Castro also backed up Chavez`s account that he did not come to Cuba for treatment.

"Some have found strange the coincidence of his visit to Cuba with the need for the medical attention that was carried out," Castro wrote. "The Venezuelan President ... did not have any intention of receiving medical services in our country."

Castro`s essay was posted late Sunday on state-run web portal Cubadebate and accompanied by photos of him meeting with Chavez that it said were taken earlier in the day. They showed the two leaders seated indoors wearing blue-and-white warm-up suits as they chatted and read unspecified documents.

Venezuela officials have said Chavez continues to be closely involved with government decisions, despite opposition calls for him to temporarily cede his duties to the vice president.

It was Castro`s first public comment on Chavez`s health, and his first published essay since May 26.

The former president, who stepped aside temporarily in 2006 and then permanently in 2008, has been a prolific writer, at times publishing nearly daily in state-run media. At other times, however, Castro has gone months without a word.

Bureau Report

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