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Fidel Castro is 'spiritually alert' and physically 'strong,' UN leader says

Alex Castro / Cubadebate via AP

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon visits with former Cuban leader Fidel Castro in Havana on Tuesday.

HAVANA – Cuba’s Fidel Castro, 87, may have retired as president in 2008, but a visit with the former revolutionary leader is a must-do for any visiting dignitaries.

United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki Moo was his most recent high-profile visitor.

Ban offered his personal observations on Castro’s health after meeting with the man for nearly an hour Tuesday.

“I found him very spiritually alert and physically very strong,” said Ban during a press conference in Havana on Tuesday evening. He said Castro was very sharp on current “global issues.”

“We spent almost an hour covering conflict situations, starting with Syria. And we discussed how the U.N. should work to promote development goals and climate change and emphasized the importance of UN having greater authority, force and capacity.

“I really appreciated his vision. He was quite clear in his statement and vision. We agreed to communicate with each other when there are important issues and I am deeply touched by his leadership."

Alex Castro/ Cubadebate via AP

Santa Lucia's President Kenny Anthony visit former Cuban leader Fidel Castro on Tuesday.

Photos of Castro's visit with the U.N. leader, as well as with the Prime Minister of St. Lucia, Kenny Davis Anthony, were released on the Cuban government's official website Tuesday evening. 

There have been a flurry of photos of Castro released recently as leaders have flocked to the country for the regional summit. The Argentine President Cristina Fernandez was seen in photos with the former leader earlier in the week. In the playful photos, Castro appears to be autographing photos of himself for Fernandez. He also made rare public appearance at a Havana art gallery earlier in January. 

Ban was in Havana for the summit of the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, or CELAC for its initials in Spanish. Cuba has been the host of the gathering of all Western Hemisphere nations except for the U.S. and Canada. The summit's main theme is fighting poverty, inequality and hunger.  


In this picture released by Argentina's press office, Cuban leader Fidel Castro and Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez look at a collection of photo portraits of Fidel during a private meeting on Jan. 26, 2014 in Havana, Cuba.

It was the U.N. leader’s first trip to Cuba. And while Ban praised Havana for its historical preservation efforts, its international medical missions that treat the poor and its work fighting violence against women and girls, he also criticized the Communist-run nation for its human rights record.

"I emphasized the importance of playing a greater role in enhancing human rights, and providing spaces for people's right to peaceful assembly and freedom of association, and the cases of arbitrary detention occurring in Cuba," Ban told reporters, according to Reuters.

Dissidents, international human rights groups and Washington have expressed concern at reports of increased harassment and detentions of Cuban government opponents in the days before and during the summit. The Cuban government officially considers dissidents to be traitors in service of foreign interests and out to undermine its sovereignty.

Reuters contributed to this report.