AP - Hugo Chavez has reappeared in photos and videos on state television, chatting with Fidel Castro in Cuba after a prolonged seclusion following surgery that has left Venezuelans guessing about their president’s health.
The images aired Tuesday night were the first to be released in 10 days and showed Chavez talking animatedly, both on his feet next to Castro and seated alongside one of his daughters.
Venezuelan government officials again said the 56-year-old Chavez is recuperating smoothly after pelvic surgery, but they gave no details about his condition or about when he might return home.
“We see him recovering, fully recovering,” Information Minister Andres Izarra said on state television as the short video clips and photographs were shown of Chavez standing and talking with Castro outdoors with trees in the background.
Izarra said the encounter in Cuba took place Tuesday, and Cuban state television also broadcast pictures of the get-together.
Usually a prolific speaker who makes televised speeches most days, Chavez has been largely out of sight since the government announced June 10 that he had undergone pelvic surgery. He spoke once in a telephone call to state television two days after the operation, and appeared in photographs alongside both Fidel and Raul Castro that were published June 18.
Chavez has said the surgery removed a pelvic abscess, yet a lack of details about his condition has fed widespread speculation and talk in Venezuela that the president might be very ill.
Vice President Elias Jaua has led government events in Chavez’s absence. The leftist president’s elder brother, Adan, rallied supporters at a Sunday prayer meeting for Chavez’s health.
While Venezuelans have wondered and debated about Chavez’s long silence, his political allies have insisted he is improving and is firmly in control of affairs in Venezuela.
Still, officials have not said how soon Chavez might return to Venezuela, which next week will be celebrating the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain.
At one point in the videos, Chavez and Castro look at a copy of the Tuesday edition of Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma and apparently discuss it.
“They discussed different current events,” Izarra said.
Chavez wore a track suit jacket with the colors of Venezuela’s flag while Castro sported a red baseball cap and a blue and white track suit.
“There we are seeing commander Chavez very dynamic,” Izarra said, describing the images and adding that he spoke with Chavez earlier Tuesday about government-related issues.
The words of Chavez and Castro were inaudible, and Venezuelan folk music played during the short presentation of video clips and photos.
Some of Chavez’s political opponents were not convinced Chavez looked healthy in the images.
“I saw him looking very thin. His face looked very thin,” said Gustavo Azocar, an opposition politician. “I find it strange that state television shows the president talking with Fidel Castro, but it does not broadcast him talking to the country.”
Opposition politicians have complained that the government has not provided adequate information about Chavez’s health, and some have suggested the president should temporarily cede his duties to the vice president.
Chavez’s allies have said that is not necessary. On state television, Izarra held up a document that he said Chavez had signed Tuesday approving funds for a government housing project.
Izarra’s Twitter account carried a message earlier in the day suggesting Chavez is energetically tending to his day-to-day duties, saying the president is governing “like a dynamo” following the operation.
Cuban state television also broadcast a one-minute segment on the meeting showing the same pictures, including some with Chavez’s daughter Rosa sitting with the two men.
Cuba’s report also gave no details about Chavez’s health, but said Wednesday afternoon’s newscast would offer more information about the encounter.