Cuban President Fidel Castro is back "in charge" after undergoing intestinal surgery in July, his friend and protege Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said on Sunday.
An intestinal ailment has kept the communist leader out of the public eye for the past nine months, sparking speculation about whether he will return to power, which he ceded temporarily to his brother Raul on July 31.
"He is charge, he is in charge, he is doing a lot of thinking," Chavez said in a speech at a summit of the ALBA group, which promotes co-operation between Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia and Nicaragua.
Despite a growing consensus among officials that the 80-year-old "Comandante" is becoming more robust, President Bush predicted on Saturday that the end of what he called Cuba's "cruel dictatorship" was near.
Chavez is in frequent contact with Castro, from whom he said he had just received a long letter including reflections on Argentine-born revolutionary Ernesto "Che" Guevara and the Chinese economy. Castro took power in 1959.
The Venezuelan president said Castro was well enough to be not only closely monitoring the ALBA summit but was also running affairs behind the scenes.
"He is in charge, the great helmsman of ALBA is Fidel," he said.
Chavez said earlier this month that Castro, 80, had informally resumed "a good part" of his governing duties.
Bolivian President Evo Morales has said he is sure Castro will attend a May Day parade in Havana, but Chavez said he did not know whether his mentor would be there.
"I think Evo and Fidel have a plan so secret that even I do not know," he said, triggering a wave of laughter.