Fidel Castro makes first public appearance in 14 months

HAVANA (AFP) - Cuba's former president and revolutionary icon Fidel Castro has made his first public appearance in 14 months, local media reported Saturday.

The state-run newspaper Granma said Castro had this week met with a Venezuelan delegation that had been invited to the communist island.

Granma published four photographs on its website of the 88-year-old Castro seated inside a bus or van and shaking the hands of supporters leaning in through the vehicle's windows.

The bearded leader was wearing a blue-and-white tracksuit, a black cap and a hearing aid.

Since leaving office in 2006 for health reasons, the father of the Cuban revolution has kept a low public profile. He last appeared on Jan 8, 2014 when he attended a gallery opening for a Cuban artist friend, and appeared frail in images that were not shown on official state media.

Granma said Castro "greeted, one by one and without any difficulties, the Venezuelans," who were left impressed "by Castro's lucidity and his attention to the details of what is happening in Venezuela."

Castro was particularly close to the late Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, who provided Havana with a steady supply of cut-rate oil and brought in thousands of Cuban doctors, nurses and advisers.

Venezuela is in the grip of a profound economic crisis triggered partly by plunging oil prices.

Cuba and the United States late last year announced a historic bilateral rapprochement, decades after severing diplomatic relations.

Despite the attempt at rapprochement, there is no immediate end in sight to the more than five-decade-old US economic embargo, which President Barack Obama would need the blessing of the Republican-controlled Congress to lift.