Fidel Castro ended a more than monthlong silence to laud President Hugo Chavez's recovery from surgery in Cuba, saying he was confident the Venezuelan leader will win his battle against cancer.
In an essay published late Sunday, Castro said his country has a "close and indestructible friendship" with Chavez. "Let's give him the strongest support and confidence," the former Cuban leader wrote.
Castro said Chavez has worked almost without stopping since taking office in 1999, so it was only natural that his health would suffer. But he said the Venezuelan leader was recovering well in Havana.
"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.
Chavez arrived in Cuba on June 8 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 tumor" 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 tumor. Neither he nor officials have given details about what kind of cancer he had, or provided a timetable for his return to Caracas.
In his essay, Castro 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 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.
Venezuelan officials have said Chavez continues to be closely involved with government decisions, despite opposition calls for him to step aside.
It was Castro's first public comment on Chavez's health, and his first published essay since May 26.
In Caracas, thousands of Venezuelans marched on Sunday to mark the country's bicentennial but the demonstration quickly turned into a show of support Chavez.
The president's red-clad supporters waved flags, beat drums and chanted "Long live Chavez!"
A message on Chavez's Twitter account said he was doing his "daily exercises and receiving that bath of love" from the demonstrators in Caracas.
"It's the best medicine!" he said in the message.
Chavez's Twitter account posted four messages within three hours Sunday, including one referring to the "Bolivarian youth" marching on the streets: "I see you, I hear you."
Venezuelan state television showed new video footage Sunday of Chavez chatting with his foreign minister and taking a stroll hand-in-hand with two of his daughters, Rosa and Maria. The 56-year-old wore a sports jersey with his name on the back, holding his daughters' hands as they walked along a concrete path through a garden fringed with palm trees.
Chavez has lost weight following his surgeries and appeared thin, though energetic and animated as he reminisced with Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro.
In the video, Chavez described how as a boy he would pretend he was 19th-century independence-era hero Simon Bolivar while playing with his friends. He asked Maduro to retrieve two long, dried seed pods of the flamboyant tree, gripped one in his hand and showed how he would pretend to sword fight with such pods.
"We played Bolivar," he said.
State television said the video was recorded Friday.
More video appeared on state television Sunday night. The footage, which was identified as being filmed on Saturday, showed Chavez sitting at a table in a grassy field with his two daughters, holding court on subjects ranging from the classic German philosophical text "Thus Spoke Zarathustra," which he held in front of him, to the hospitality of his host, Cuban leader Fidel Castro.
"We feel a dawn in Latin America from Havana to Buenos Aires to the Caribbean. It's the territory of the dawn, of hope, a new world," Chavez said in the clip, which ran for about 20 minutes.
Associated Press writers Peter Orsi in Havana, and Ian James and Jack Chang in Caracas, contributed to this report.