CARACAS, (Reuters) – Vice President Nicolas Maduro returned to Venezuela yesterday after visiting Hugo Chavez in hospital in Cuba, but gave no new details on the cancer-stricken president as rumors grow about his condition.
Flanked by senior government figures including Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly, Maduro toured a coffee production plant in Caracas – the type of visit that the president made frequently before he fell ill.
Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public nor heard from in more than three weeks and officials say the socialist leader is in delicate condition after suffering complications following his fourth cancer operation in just 18 months. But they have offered very few details.
“In the last few hours we were with President Hugo Chavez, bringing him the encouragement and strength of the Venezuelan people,” Maduro said yesterday. He said Cabello, Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez and Chavez’s elder brother Adan, among others, had all been with the president in the Cuban hospital.
Venezuelan bonds rallied to 2008 highs yesterday on rumors about Chavez’s health.
In scenes that recalled Chavez’s hours-long televised visits to building sites, hospitals and oil refineries, Maduro told workers at the nationalized Fama de America factory that there was no “transition” taking place in the country.
“The only transition in Venezuela is the transition to socialism,” he said in comments carried live by state television.
“It began six years ago, ordered by Comandante Hugo Chavez as chief and president, elected, re-elected and ratified, much as it pains the bourgeois hucksters and the right, who have done so much damage to our fatherland.”
Chavez’s abrupt exit from the political scene would be a huge shock for the South American OPEC nation. His oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor majority but critics call him a dictator.