IMAGE: FIDEL CASTRO
NBC News
Cuban President Fidel Castro is seen in this image taken from the interview shown on Cuban TV Tuesday night.
msnbc.com news services
updated 6/5/2007 8:34:16 PM ET 2007-06-06T00:34:16

Speaking slowly and focusing on past memories rather than his recovery and future, a healthier looking Fidel Castro appeared on Cuban television Tuesday, giving the world its first long look at him since he fell ill and gave up power last summer.

Castro, 80, said he was eating better, and he appeared relaxed throughout the one-hour interview on state television.

Asked if he was in good spirits, Castro replied: “Yes, yes, I am doing what I have to do. There are no secrets anymore. I have said I am eating better for the first time.”

But he gave no indication that he would return to govern Cuba, saying only that he will continue writing articles called “Reflections of the Comandante” in the Cuban press.

Although his hair is grayer and his speech is slower than before his illness, Castro has clearly recovered from the worst of the health crisis and was in an upbeat mood as he recalled a visit to North Vietnam in 1973 in the midst of its war with the United States.

He wore a red, white and blue track suit with a Cuban flag on his chest for the interview, which followed his weekend meeting with Vietnamese leader Nong Duc Manh.

Still citing stats
Cstro's train of thought was often harder to follow than it had been before his illness. And the most notable thing about the hour-long interview with Randy Alonso, host of the government’s nightly “Round Table” program, was how much stronger and healthier Castro appeared than in previous glimpses of him.

True to character, Castro rambled as he read out statistics on energy consumption, education and public health in Vietnam.

It was his first televised interview after months of uncertainty over his fate and the future of Cuba’s one-party Communist state. The interview was pre-taped on Monday.

Castro has not been seen in his trademark military fatigues since his last speech on July 26 before he was rushed to hospital.

He was forced to hand over power temporarily to his brother Raul Castro on July 31, the first time he has stepped aside since seizing power in a 1959 revolution.

The Cuban leader has appeared progressively stronger in recent video images, adding credibility to official reports that he has almost fully recovered. But officials have not said when or if he will be strong enough to resume governing.

Castro underwent several intestinal operations that put his life at risk due to an undisclosed illness that is thought be diverticulitis, or inflamed sacs in the large intestine.

Public life via writings
While he has not yet appeared in public, Castro has returned to public life by writing scathing attacks on U.S. President Bush from his convalescence quarters.

The series of 14 articles have criticized Bush for threatening food supplies for the world’s poor with plans to use crops for biofuels.

In an article published on May 24, Castro acknowledged that he had several operations that were not initially successful and spent “many months” being fed intravenously. He said he was eating again and his weight was stable at 176 pounds.

But he has given no indication that he plans to resume day-to-day government in Cuba, fueling speculation that he will take a back-seat role as elder statesman.

In Washington on Monday, State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said that "clearly, Fidel Castro is not playing the same kind of role right now that he was, say, one year ago or two years ago."

"What exactly that means for Cuba's immediate political future, I can't tell you," he added.

Reuters and The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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