(Photo: Reuters/Miraflores Palace/Handout)
Alex Castro, son of 86-year-old Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, has spoken out against recent claims that his father has died and that family members have been hiding the news from the public.
"The commander is fine, doing his daily things, reading, exercising," the younger Castro told Cuban blogger Yohandry Fontana, according to GPB News.
GPB News reported over the weekend that the fresh rumor of Castro's death was partly attributed to Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda.
Bocaranda reportedly claims to have received phone calls from associates who tipped him off to the Cuban dictator's death, and suggested that the news would be made public in 72 hours.
"They're expecting the arrival of Juanita Castro from Miami. She was invited by her brother Ral (sic) to make an 'important family announcement,'" the journalist reportedly tweeted over the weekend.
However, 72 hours has since past since Bocaranda made his claim and no word has come about Castro's health, other than his family members' insistence that he is doing fine.
Juanita Castro, the dictator's sister, denied to The Associated Press that she had plans to travel from Miami to Cuba.
"I have no news," she told the news agency. "I have no plans to travel. That's not true. ... These are pure rumors, it's all absurd."
The state-run Cuban Agency National Information Agency has also denied reports of Castro's death.
Despite claims that Castro is well, a Twitter account was started last Friday purportedly belonging to the Cuban government, titled "Gobierno de Cuba". The tweets were sent in both English and Spanish, and numbered only five by Monday afternoon.
One tweet, shared Saturday, Oct. 13, claimed that Castro had spoken for 30 minutes on the phone with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a close friend of Castro's. The next tweet, shared Monday at 10:07 a.m., claimed that Castro had died. The tweet reads: "Today, Oct. 15, at 7.30am, Commander in Chief FIDEL CASTRO RUZ, leader of Revolution, has died."
The statement was re-tweeted 30 times and marked as a "favorite" by a handful of Twitter users. However, one user, Dayana Romero, refuted the claim, writing: "No. I googled it. He's still alive dummies..."
The rumor may have started when Castro failed to publicly acknowledge Chavez's re-election last week, the AP reports, although Chavez told reporters on Oct. 4 that he had received "messages" from his friend. It was also reported in August that the two Latin American leaders were jointly working on a book.
Speculation on Castro's health may have also been fueled by an absence of the former dictator's "Reflections" essays regularly published by the Cuban Agency National Information Agency. The last "Reflections" from Castro was published in June.
Castro, who was last seen publicly in an appearance with Pope Benedict XVI in March (see video below), handed over rule after 48 years to brother Raul Castro in 2006 after developing a serious intestinal condition, for which he underwent surgery.
The Associated Press reports that the rumor of Castro's alleged death was met with skepticism and cautious optimism by online users and from exiles living in Miami.
A local newspaper editor told the agency that many in Miami were keeping a close on reports concerning Castro's condition, and are quite used to hearing false reports on his death.
"This is like when someone at a beach starts yelling, 'I'm drowning,' and then they say, 'No, it's a joke.' We never know whether we're on the precipice of truth or another trick of the regime," he said.
It was speculated during Pope Benedict XVI's March visit that the aging former dictator, who abandoned Christianity for atheism decades ago, would seek to be readmitted to the Roman Catholic Church. Castro's daughter, Alina Fernandez, had also said at the time that her father had "come closer to religion and to God."