HAVANA – Former Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua said Sunday that he met with aging revolutionary icon Fidel Castro for five hours and showed The Associated Press photos of the encounter, quashing rumors that the former Cuban leader was on his deathbed or had suffered a stroke.

Jaua also confirmed that the 86-year-old retired Cuban president personally accompanied him to the Hotel Nacional after their meeting Saturday, in which they talked about politics, history, culture and tourism.

“He had the courtesy of bringing me to the hotel,” Jaua said Sunday, adding that Castro looked “very well.”

Jaua showed a photograph of himself seated in a minibus along with the former Cuban leader, Castro’s wife, Dalia Soto del Valle, a hotel executive and several other people.

The public appearance was Castro’s first in months. A top Hotel Nacional executive told the AP earlier Sunday how Castro had dropped off the Venezuelan guest, then stayed on to chat with hotel staff.

“Fidel Castro was here yesterday, he brought a guest and spoke to workers and hotel leaders for 30 minutes,” commercial director Yamila Fuster said.

Castro’s health has been the subject of intense speculation for years, but the rumors gained force in recent days after he failed to publicly congratulate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, a top ally, on his Oct. 7 electoral victory. The former Cuban leader has not appeared since March, when he was shown greeting visiting Pope Benedict XVI, and he has also ceased writing his once-constant opinion pieces, the last of which appeared in June.

Social media sites have been abuzz with claims of Castro’s demise. Late last week, a Venezuelan doctor purported to have information that Castro had suffered a stroke, but the same doctor has previously claimed knowledge that turned out to be false.

Sunday’s news appeared to be Cuba’s attempt to hit back against what it says are false and malicious rumors. A letter attributed to Castro was published Thursday by Cuban state media. In it, he congratulated graduates of a medical school on its 50th anniversary.