updated 10/2/2006 10:13:51 AM ET 2006-10-02T14:13:51

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Sunday that his ailing ally, Cuban leader Fidel Castro, is recovering slowly from intestinal surgery but told him recently that he was prepared to die.

“Fidel told me when I went to visit him in Havana: ‘Chavez, I already lived my epoch, I can die. I’m free to die, not you. You are a slave of life, don’t let them kill you,”’ Chavez said during a campaign rally in his home state of Barinas.

Chavez, who is up for re-election Dec. 3, also told the crowd that Castro’s health is progressing two months after he temporarily turned power over to his younger brother Raul.

“Fidel’s recovery is advancing, according to the report with details that I received last night,” Chavez said. “It will be a slow recovery because of the type of illness, which was serious at one moment.”

Chavez did not say who sent him the report.

‘Many more years’
Supporters of Chavez, one of Castro’s closest friends, cheered when the Venezuelan leader wished the 80-year-old Cuban president a speedy recovery. One woman waved a large Cuban flag.

“Fidel reached 80 and he’s going to live many more years,” Chavez said.

Chavez has kept close tabs on Castro’s health since the Cuban leader underwent surgery and temporarily handed over presidential power on July 31. Chavez visited Castro in Havana to mark his birthday on Aug. 13.

The specifics of Castro’s ailment and the nature of his surgery have been treated as a state secret.

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