<!--:es-->Ailing Castro unable to speak in public<!--:-->

Ailing Castro unable to speak in public

HAVANA – Fidel Castro said Wednesday he is not yet healthy enough to speak to Cuba’s masses in person and can’t campaign for Sunday’s parliamentary elections.

“I am not physically able to speak directly to the citizens of the municipality where I was nominated for our elections next Sunday,” the ailing 81-year-old wrote in an essay published Wednesday by state news media. Castro’s latest essay focused on blasting President Bush, but included references to the Cuban leader’s health. It was published on the front pages of state-run newspapers a day after Castro met for more than two hours with Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who said he thought Castro appeared healthy enough to return to politics.

“I think Fidel is ready to take to take over his historic political role in this globalized world, in humanity,” Silva told reporters as he left Cuba.

Castro has not been seen in public since July 2006, when emergency intestinal surgery forced him to cede power to a provisional government headed by his brother Raul, five years his junior.

“My feeling is that Fidel is in very good health, that he’s as lucid as he’s ever been,” Silva said. Castro, however, expressed frustration in his essay: “I do what I can: I write. For me, this is a new experience: writing is not the same as speaking.”

Frail but alert leader: Castro looked frail but alert and even playful in a series of official photographs taken during a meeting with Brazil’s president on Tuesday, the first images of the ailing Cuban leader released in about three months. Wearing a tracksuit and tennis shoes that have become his trademark since he fell ill, Castro is seen seated and grinning, his beard well-trimmed and his hair combed as he talks with Silva. In some images, he is seen pretending to snap pictures with a small camera.

Taken in an undisclosed location, the photographs were given to reporters as Silva left Cuba, concluding a 24-hour visit. They were the first photos of Castro since October, when he met with his good friend and socialist ally, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez..