Frail Castro feels the pain of advancing years

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Retired Cuban president Fidel Castro has complained of a bad knee, weak eyesight and difficulty adjusting to changes in light during a lengthy interview with state-run media published yesterday.

The 86-year-old revolutionary icon also praised Cuban election officials for building a new entrance to his local polling station, eliminating the need for him to climb stairs, which he indicated had been difficult since a fall in 2004.

“I asked various people the number of steps and the height of the stairway at the entrance,” Castro said in an informal talk with several Cuban journalists conducted on 3 February, the day he cast a ballot in a legislative election. “My shattered knee … has taken its toll.”

He is rarely seen in public, and more rarely speaks about Cuban affairs. While his appearance at the voting station had been reported earlier, the majority of his comments had not.

Yesterday’s edition of the Communist Party daily Granma transcribes the entire encounter over five full pages – the transcript having been “revised and updated by the interviewee”.

Castro also speaks passionately about his ailing ally and friend the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who is battling cancer at a Cuban hospital and has not been seen in public for more than two months.

“When he was in full [political] combat, he neglected his health and he dedicated himself to the fight,” he said.

As for his own health, Castro acknowledges having difficulty reading small print.