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Back in Venezuela, Chavez stays quiet

20 February 2013, 09:06

Caracas - A day after President Hugo Chavez surprised Venezuelans by returning home, after a two-month absence in Cuba for cancer treatment, the once-omnipresent leader stayed out of the public eye on Tuesday.

It was also unclear whether Chavez, who has been admitted to the military hospital in Caracas, had seen Bolivia's President Evo Morales, who made a stopover in the capital to visit his close ally on his way to the US.

Venezuelans had neither seen nor heard from their usually ubiquitous leader since he left for Cuba on 10 December for another round of cancer surgery, though on Friday the government released photos of him bedridden but smiling.

The government said then that it was hard for Chavez to speak because he has been fitted with a tracheal tube, due to a post-operative respiratory infection.

Morales met on Tuesday with Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked political heir who has essentially been running Venezuela in the leader's absence, and with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

One of Chavez's daughters, Maria Gabriela, tweeted her appreciation for the visit.

New treatment plan

"Nice meeting with our brother Evo. He came to support us and express the love of the Bolivan people. What a man! Thank you Evo!" she wrote, without clarifying whether the two leaders had met.

Meanwhile, the governor of the northern state of Aragua, Tarek El Aissami told state television that Maduro had briefed ruling party leaders on the new treatment plan for Chavez, without giving specifics.

State-issued updates on Chavez's condition have been sketchy, fuelling speculation that it is worse than officials admit. The government has never specified what kind of cancer he had.

A pressing question is when or if Chavez, who has undergone surgery four times since mid 2011, will be sworn in by the Supreme Court to begin the new term he won in elections last autumn.

A Supreme Court source said the tribunal is ready and waiting for the go-ahead from the president and his medical team.

But pollster Luis Vicente Leon has said uncertainty remains over whether illness will force Chavez to step down and call early elections.

A poll released on Sunday said that if elections were held now between Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the former would win by 14 percentage points.



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