Surgery silences Venezuela’s Chavez, controversy grows

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – The most verbose president on  the planet is strangely silent.
Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez, an avid tweeter whose speeches  routinely go on for hours, has barely communicated in public  since a June 10 operation in Cuba that has become increasingly  shrouded in mystery and speculation as the days have gone by.

Hugo Chavez

Usually on TV several times a day, Chavez has also been  invisible except for a photo session with Cuba’s President Raul  Castro and its revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, where Chavez  was smiling and upright but notably frailer.

Government ministers and Chavez supporters say there is  nothing to worry about: the operation to remove an abscess in  his pelvis was a success, two weeks is a normal recovery  period, and the ‘Comandante’ will be triumphantly home soon.

“We’re not anxious. His ministers are working well,  everything’s carrying on even without him,” said Marisol  Aponte, a die-hard supporter of the socialist president, who   works and campaigns for him in a Caracas slum.

“The opposition always try and stir things up with rumors  to destabilize. We’re alert and ready to defend what’s ours.”

Pro-government groups have been ready for days to fete  Chavez’s return to the Miraflores presidential palace, reviving  and suspending plans as rumors of his return come and go.

From the government, there is disciplined silence on the  details of Chavez’s operation and his precise schedule.

“Under authoritarian governments, there are photos. In  democracy, there is information,” opposition legislator Americo  de Grazia pointedly told parliament this week.

Chavez’s foes have jumped on the Cold War-style whiff of  secrecy over his health, hinting he may have something really  serious like cancer or at least is abusing the constitution  with the unexplained and prolonged absence.

They are particularly upset that Chavez has been signing  laws from Cuba, saying those might be illegal.

FIT FOR SUMMIT?

In his only public utterances — a phone call with a TV  network two days after the surgery — Chavez actually fueled  rather than dampened speculation by noting there were no  “malignant” signs found.

The famously workaholic and coffee-swilling Chavez also  vowed to be back home in a “few days”, which has not happened.

He is supposed to host a Latin American leaders’ summit in  Venezuela on July 5, so there is a widespread assumption his  goal is to be back at his usual energetic and loquacious best  for then.

Opposition newspapers, however, have reported that a  military hospital is being spruced up, possibly to receive him  on return from Cuba. They have also been making hay out of  deadly prison riots and electricity cuts to give an impression  of chaos and collapse in Chavez’s absence.

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