Fidel Castro has broken a long silence by granting an interview to a Venezuelan television station, his first since rumors began to spread this year that the former Cuban leader might be sick or near death. A top Cuban official said Thursday that the revolutionary leader is in good health.

Photographs of the sit-down with a journalist from Venezolana de Television were posted on Cubadebate, a state-run Web site. The 85-year-old appears relaxed and healthy in the pictures, sitting in an easy chair and wearing a white windbreaker and green pants.

The Web site says the interview took place Tuesday in Havana, but it has not yet been broadcast and it was not immediately clear when it would be.

“I hate to inform those who are enjoying themselves by believing that Commandante Fidel has had a stroke that he is alive and kicking,” the Venezuelan journalist who conducted the interview, Mario Silva, was quoted as saying.

Cuban parliament chief Ricardo Alarcon also weighed in on the health rumors that have sprung up in recent weeks, saying Castro “is well and enjoying good health.”

“Fidel himself said it a while ago: The day he dies nobody will believe it because they have killed him so many times,” he added.

Castro has not appeared in public since a Communist Party summit in April, when he seemed unsteady and unusually frail. He has all but stopped writing his trademark opinion pieces, and he did not make a statement or release a photograph on his birthday last month.

The silence has led to a fresh round of death rumors from Miami, propagated on exile radio and television stations and through social media sites such as Twitter.

Castro stepped down temporarily, then permanently, in July 2006, handing over power to his brother Raul. He stayed out of the public eye for four years before reemerging in 2010. But after a flurry of appearances, he went silent again.

The television interview would be Castro’s first this year, though photographs and video of him meeting with Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and other visiting dignitaries have been released.

— Associated Press