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Castro calls Chavez in live broadcast in Cuba
Associated Press
2007-10-15 09:23 AM
Ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro made his first live appearance on Cuban airwaves since falling ill 14 months ago, seeming lucid and in good humor as he exchanged jokes with Venezuela's Hugo Chavez.

The Venezuelan president, bringing his weekly television program to Cuba on Sunday, sang hymns to Castro and referred to him in almost religious tones as the "father of all revolutionaries" during a videotape he said was made during a four-hour meeting a day earlier.

"I am very touched when you sing about Che," Castro told Chavez during an hour-long phone call to the program dedicated to revolutionary icon Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

"There is electricity in the air," Chavez said during Castro's call to his "Alo, Presidente!" program.

Later Sunday, Chavez traveled to the southern city of Cienfuegos to visit a refinery that has been idle for 14 years since the Soviet Union's collapse.

Venezuela is helping revive the giant refinery. In an address carried live on state television, Chavez said the project would help reactivate Cuba's economy and make both countries more "united so we will have the strength to always be free" from the United States and international lending institutions.

Castro, who has not appeared in public since falling ill in July 2006, made his last live media appearance with a phone call to a Chavez radio broadcast from Venezuela in February. But there was a half-hour delay before that program was broadcast in Cuba.

Both on the 17-minute videotape and during the program on Sunday, the two men seemed mindful that the leadership of Latin America's left is being passed from one generation to another, with Chavez calling Castro "the father of all revolutionaries in this America."

"Our father, who is in the water, earth and air," Chavez called Castro, in a tone that evoked the "Lord's Prayer."

"You will never die," Chavez told Castro. "You remain forever on this continent and with these nations, and this revolution .... is more alive today than ever, and Fidel, you know it: We will take charge of continuing to fan the flame."

During the program, which wrapped up after more than five hours, Chavez also warned the foes of another member of the region's new leftist leadership _ Bolivian President Evo Morales _ that the Venezuelan people "will not stand by with our arms crossed" if someone tries to assassinate him. "They had better be careful."

Chavez also said Venezuela and Cuba share "just one government" and that "we joined ourselves together so that we will never be separated again."

Cuban state television joined Venezuela in broadcasting Chavez's program live from Santa Clara, where the communist government last week commemorated the 40th anniversary of Guevara's death.

In both the video and still photographs of the meeting, Castro wore the red, white and blue track suit that has become his typical dress during his convalescence and both men sat in bamboo chairs at an undisclosed location.

Although he looks older and his gray beard has thinned considerably, Castro appears lucid and animated as he thumbs through a copy of Guevara's "Bolivian Diary" and the pair discuss the revolutionary's life and legacy.

Chavez has visited the 81-year-old Castro several times since the Cuban leader underwent emergency intestinal surgery in late July 2006 and ceded authority to his younger brother Raul.

In his comments late Sunday, Chavez said the Cienfuegos refinery could be developed into a huge complex producing 65,000 barrels of crude a day, distilling gas and producing petrochemical products.

A more modest version of the project, calling for a US$83 million (euro59 million) Venezuelan investment for its first phase, was announced last year. That first phase, which Chavez said will be inaugurated with a return visit to Cuba in December, now calls for a US$136 million (euro96 million) investment, with another US$1.3 billion (euro917 million) investment for the second phase.

Chavez said he would meet Monday with Castro's younger brother and Cuba's interim leader Raul Castro to sign a series of new agreements covering energy and telecommunications projects.

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