Cuba has published the first photos of Fidel Castro in more than five months, showing the 88-year-old former leader engaged in what appears to be a lively conversation with a university student.
Nearly two dozen images were published virtually simultaneously on the websites of Cuba’s main state media outlets on Monday.
In them, Mr Castro is seated and discussing current events with the head of the main Cuban student union.
A first-person account by student leader Randy Perdomo Garcia says the meeting took place on 23 January.
The photos are the first images of the revolutionary leader since a set of photos were published in August showing him talking with Venezuelan president Nicolas Maduro.
Mr Perdomo said he contacted Mr Castro to tell him about his student union’s plans to commemorate the 70th anniversary since Mr Castro enrolled at university. He said he was surprised to be invited subsequently to Mr Castro’s home.
Mr Perdomo described the revolutionary leader as “full of life, conversing intelligently” and full of curiosity for a wide variety of topics.
The student said in a lengthy article accompanying the photos that he and Mr Castro met for more than three hours in the former leader’s house after an event celebrating the anniversary of Mr Castro starting his studies at the University of Havana.
Mr Perdomo said Castro revealed he is keeping abreast of the news and performing daily exercises, and he engaged Mr Perdomo in a wide-ranging discussion of topics including international politics, agriculture, astronomy, and even Namibia’s donation of animals to Cuba’s National Zoo.
Mr Perdomo said the two men discussed the release of three Cuban intelligence agents as part of the 17 December declaration by Cuba and the United States that they would move to re-establish full diplomatic relations.
The photos show Mr Castro examining a newspaper report on their release.
“I’m about to go but he continues a conversation about new ways of fighting some diseases, including diabetes, with the production of natural foods; about Cuba’s relations with Africa, from its contribution to those countries’ independence to the end of apartheid and the current contribution of Cuban doctors to the fight against Ebola,” Mr Perdomo wrote.
Mr Castro did not issue a public statement for nearly a month after the announcement that Cuba and the US were moving to re-establish full diplomatic relations.
The former leader’s public appearances and statements have become increasingly infrequent since he stepped down from duties as president after a serious illness in 2006, handing over leadership to his younger brother Raul. Mr Castro led Cuba for nearly half a century.
His unusually lengthy silence after the US and Cuba’s announcement sparked intense speculation about his health.
Rumours about his imminent death have surfaced on a number of occasions over the past decade and only a few weeks ago he sent a letter to former footballer Diego Maradona to quash rumours that he had died.
Speaking last week, Mr Castro appeared to lend his support to talks with the US but stopped short of an enthusiastic endorsement of the move.
The US broke off relations with Cuba in 1961, amid fears that Castro had communist sympathies.