In the photos, Chavez smiles from a hospital bed while flanked by daughters Maria Gabriela and Rosa Virginia. They are pictured looking at Thursday’s edition of Cuba’s state newspaper, Granma, the images serving as a sort of proof of life to those who doubted that El Comandante remained alive. The photos were shown on state television by Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza, Chavez’s son-in-law.
The photographs have come as tensions have flared in Venezuela, with opposition leaders increasingly demanding to see evidence that Chavez has been recuperating, as his aides have claimed.
Although he had once held forth on television as if he were the host of a reality show, there has been nothing but silence since his December surgery. No photographs or video had been released. Chavez missed his Jan. 10 swearing in for a fourth term, following a bruising reelection campaign last year. He had also stopped posting on Twitter and making late-night phone calls to his favorite state television interviewers.
Then on Friday morning, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that after a “complicated postoperative process, the patient is conscious, with his intellectual functions intact, in close communication with his government team.”
Villegas said that a respiratory infection had been controlled but that Chavez still faced difficulties. “Under these circumstances, which are being treated, the commander is currently breathing through a tracheal tube,” he said.
Doctors were “applying energetic treatment for the illness,” he said, adding that there could be complications. The government has not said what kind of cancer Chavez has, whether it is spreading or what the prognosis is.
But Villegas struck a hopeful tone in his public comments, saying: “We are confident, along with the Venezuelans and the other peoples of the world, that Chavez will overcome these delicate circumstances sooner rather than later to accompany his people on the path toward new victories.”
Who is in charge?
The disclosure came a day after Henrique Capriles, the 40-year-old leader of Venezuela’s opposition, demanded that the government present details about the president’s health. Directing his comments at Venezuelan officials, Capriles said that if Chavez did not appear publicly “then you’re lying” about him being in charge of the day-to-day affairs of government.
Indeed, some Venezuelans had begun to wonder whether the man who single-handedly ran this country for 14 years was really in charge, even as Chavez’s lieutenants contended that he had been closely involved in every key decision over the past two months.