Fidel Castro hits polls in rare public appearance

HAVANA The surprise appearance of former President Fidel Castro casting his ballot for parliament at a Havana polling station was a rare appearance for the iconic revolutionary who fell ill in 2006 and resigned from the Cuban presidency two years later.

"I nearly cried last night," says my housekeeper Maritza, referring to the 86-year-old's appearance on TV Sunday evening. "He reminded me of my father, so hunched over."

Seen only occasionally and mostly in still photos, Castro last appeared in video during the Papal visit to Cuba in 2012. That image of the frail looking former leader being helped to walk shocked older Cubans who retain a mental image of the robust firebrand who mesmerized audiences with hours-long speeches.

"He must be feeling better if he went to the polls," was the comment repeated by several workers at the Hotel Nacional this morning. In elections since he fell ill a member of the National Electoral Board has deposited his ballot for him.

Only Cuban media and Caracas-based Telesur were present when at nearly 5 p.m. Castro showed up to vote (watch Spanish-language video above). He then spent more than an hour chatting with reporters and posed for photos with neighborhood residents and election workers.

A photo of Castro putting his ballot in the box, with a headline reading "Fidel together with his people" is on the front page of Monday's official Communist Party newspaper Granma and his appearance is top news on local TV and radio.

Responding to questions about his protege Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez who is reportedly recovering from his fourth cancer operation in Havana, Castro said he is following his state "every day."

"He is much better, recovering," Castro said. "It has been a tough battle, but he has been improving. We have to cure him. Chavez is very important for his country and for Latin America." He referred to the recent Summit of Latin American and Caribbean States pointing to Chavez as one of its main architects.

Castro briefly commented on the economic changes taking place in Cuba, saying they were necessary but should be made without committing errors.

Castro was one of the 25 National Assembly or parliament candidates from the city of Santiago de Cuba. There is a single slate of candidates.

Although Castro's election is a foregone conclusion it is not known if he will attend parliamentary meetings, which he has not done since being sidelined by a still unnamed illness.

The Assembly will convene February 24th when it is expected to name Raul Castro President for another five year term.