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Havana, Cuba CNN —  

Cuban state media Saturday released images of a rare public appearance by former leader Fidel Castro, who met with a group of Venezuelans who were on a solidarity mission to the island.

It is the first time the ailing Castro appeared in public in more than a year.

“Fidel is full of vitality,” the Juventud Rebelde newspaper exclaimed. Castro, 88, has made infrequent appearances following a mystery intestinal ailment that nearly killed him in 2006.

The newspaper showed pictures of Castro shaking hands with a crowd of people sticking their hands through the window of a bus where he was sitting.

The “chance meeting,” Juventud Rebelde said, took place on March 30 at a primary school in Havana that a group of 33 Venezuelans were visiting when Castro arrived.

Venezuela is one of Cuba’s closest allies and sends the nation tens of thousands of barrels of oil a day in exchange for Cuban doctors, soldiers and sports trainers.

According to the newspaper, Castro met each of the Venezuelan visitors and talked about current affairs.

Castro, the newspaper said, urged the group to continue a signature collection campaign asking U.S. President Barack Obama to revoke a recent designation that Venezuela’s troubled economy and rising corruption presents a national security threat to the United States.

La Radio del Sur, a Venezuelan radio station that first reported Castro’s appearance, said the leader met with the group for about 30 minutes and also talked to them about moringa, a plant with medicinal qualities that the former leader is cultivating at his home in Havana.

Fast Facts: Fidel Castro

“Fidel is lucid, he looks good physically, his eyes were shining,” Luz Nieda Parra, one of the Venezuelans who met Castro, told the radio station.

Castro’s brother, Raul, succeeded him as president and chief of the communist party and military.