Panamanian president meets with Raul Castro, talks to ailing Fidel by phone

HAVANA (AP) - Panamanian President Martin Torrijos met Wednesday with Cuba's new head of state Raul Castro and talked at length with his ailing older brother Fidel by telephone.

Torrijos also placed the first stone for a monument to be built on a major thoroughfare in honor of his father, the late Panamanian leader Gen. Omar Torrijos.

Fidel Castro was a longtime supporter of the elder Torrijos' successful push for a treaty under which the U.S. agreed to turn over the Panama Canal. His son offered no specifics about his phone conversation with Cuba's 81-year-old former president, but members of Panama's diplomatic delegation described it as lengthy.

The two countries also signed energy, fishing and other cooperative agreements during a two-day visit that concludes Thursday. Cuba and Venezuela have already provided free eye operations to poor people across the region, including 20,000 Panamanians, through a program known as "Operation Miracle," Torrijos said.

Torrijos' visit was his fifth to the island - and the first since Raul Castro permanently assumed the presidency on Feb. 24. Raul had previously served in a provisional role for 19 months, since Fidel announced in mid-2006 that he had undergone emergency intestinal surgery.

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