Venezuela shows Chavez photos, says leader has trouble speaking
By Daniel Wallis and Marianna Parraga, ReutersCARACAS--Venezuela published the first photos of cancer-stricken Hugo Chavez since his surgery in Havana more than two months ago and said the socialist president was breathing through a tracheal tube and struggling to speak.
February 17, 2013, 11:36 am TWN
The pictures showed the 58-year-old, smiling but with his face looking swollen, lying down in a hospital bed and flanked by his two daughters. In one, they were reading Thursday's edition of the Cuban state newspaper, Granma.
The photos were shown by Chavez's son-in-law, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, who has been traveling between Havana and Caracas to be at the Venezuelan president's bedside.
He said Chavez — whose political identity is built around long-winded speeches, meandering talk shows and casual chatter with supporters — was having trouble talking.
“He doesn't have his usual voice,” Arreaza told Venezuelan state television. “He has difficulty communicating verbally, but he makes himself understood. He communicates his decisions perfectly. He writes them down.”
Chavez has not appeared in public, and has still not been heard from, since the operation on Dec. 11, his fourth surgery for cancer in his pelvic region first diagnosed in mid-2011.
Neither the pictures nor the new details on his condition offer solid clues as to when Chavez might be able to return home, or whether the disease will force him to step down.
Allies appear content to let Chavez continue governing silently from Havana indefinitely. They bristle when asked about how the long the unusual arrangement could last.
The former soldier has never disclosed what type of cancer he has been treated for, and critics have accused government officials of secrecy over his condition.
“A few days ago the liars said they were speaking with the president. Now they say he can't talk!” opposition leader Henrique Capriles wrote on Twitter. “They are playing around with their own people.”
Chavez was re-elected for a new six-year term in October after appearing to have staged a remarkable recovery from the disease following three earlier operations and weeks of grueling chemotherapy and radiation sessions.
But he soon had to fly back to Cuba for more medical tests, then another round of complex surgery. He was too ill to return to Venezuela for his inauguration ceremony last month.