Havana Fidel Castro is sitting up, walking and even working a bit on the eve of his 80th birthday, Cuba's official Communist Party newspaper said Saturday. It was the most optimistic report yet since intestinal surgery forced the Cuban leader to step aside as president.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, meanwhile, announced plans to visit his close friend and political ally in Havana.
"Tomorrow I will be with Fidel celebrating his 80th birthday," Chavez said at a news conference in the Venezuela after declaring his candidacy for re-election in December.
"I'll take him a nice gift, a good cake, and we'll be celebrating the 80 years of this great figure of America and our history," Chavez said.
Chavez also visited Castro in October 2004, two weeks after a devastating fall that shattered the Cuban leader's kneecap and broke his right arm. A picture of the pair on the front page of Granma newspaper was the first image published of Castro after the accident.
Saturday's article in the Granma newspaper - though brief and cryptic - was the most detailed statement Cuba's government has issued since Castro announced July 31 that he was temporarily ceding his powers to his younger brother, Raul, No. 2 in the government.
Fidel Castro said his condition during his recovery would be treated as a "state secret," so as not to give any advantage to his enemies in the United States.
"Firm Like a Caguairan," the Granma headline read, comparing Castro to a hardwood tropical tree native to eastern Cuba.
"A friend tells us that just a few hours ago, upon visiting the Comandante who was briefly dispatching some business, he witnessed some good news that he enthusiastically summed up in one sentence: 'The Caguairan has risen,"' the paper said in a three-paragraph report.
"He said that he could appreciate how the Chief of the Revolution, after receiving a little physical therapy, took some steps in his room and then, seated in a chair, conversed animatedly," the report said, without identifying the friend.
Cuban Culture Minister Abel Prieto told The Associated Press on Friday that he was convinced that with or without Castro, Cuba will "continue to be a survivor of the sinking ship of socialism in the 20th century. It will be a reference for socialism in the 21st century."
Prieto made clear he wants Castro to live much longer, and said the Cuban leader needs to learn to take care of himself and rest. "It's important that Fidel take that into account in the future," Prieto said.
After Chavez said on Thursday that his friend was in a "great battle for life," some believed Castro was in worse shape than initially known.