Cuba President Raul Castro (center) sends off Ecuador's President Rafael Correa (right) and Ecuador's Foreign Minister Ricardo Patino (left) on Saturday.
Image Reuters

Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, said that he spoke for more than two hours with Fidel Castro, the aging Cuban revolutionary leader, on Friday during a trip to Cuba. Correa, who was also received by Fidel's younger brother and current president Raúl Castro in his Palace of the Revolution in Havana, told members of the press at a conference held around midnight, just before boarding a plane back to Ecuador, that "Upon hearing that we were coming to Havana, Fidel took the courtesy of inviting us to speak for a moment, and a moment with Fidel is quite long."

"We spent more than two hours talking," Correa added. "It's always an honor and always a pleasure to share time with someone who is the living history of Latin America." The Ecuadorian president was only in Cuba for about 12 hours, most of which he spent in the southeastern city of Santiago de Cuba, where he was inspecting houses which military engineers from his country were building as part of an aid package intended for victims of Hurricane Sandy. Some 560 units are already underway, with a total of 1,560 slated to go up in coming months.

Among the buildings which the military engineers were working on was a residence for students of medicine at the University of Medical Sciences in Santiago de Cuba. 313 Ecuadorians currently pursue advanced degrees in Cuba, according to Efe, with 273 of them studying medicine. Correa said during the press conference that he met with Roberto Morales, the director of Cuba's public health bureau, as part of an effort to get to know "in-depth" the country's health system. "We came to learn from Cuba, from its achievements in the healthcare system and care for the handicapped," he said, adding that he sought "greater comprehensiveness" in the providing of wheelchairs and other equipment to those in need in Ecuador.

Correa's Ecuador and Castro's Cuba are both members of the ALBA block of Latin American countries with leftist leaders, along with Nicaragua, Venezuela and Bolivia. "It has been a work visit, but well, that's how Raúl and Fidel are. We've understood each other very well. It was a work visit to see how the works and cooperation in Santiago de Cuba and here [in Havana] are going, to have a deeper awareness of the Cuban healthcare system and the sustainability of that system," said Correa.

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