Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez's hospitalization and subsequent disappearance from public view while in Cuba have stirred rumors about the seriousness of his illness.
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez’s hospitalization and subsequent disappearance from public view while in Cuba have stirred rumors about the seriousness of his illness and controversy over whether he should delegate power.
Chávez, 56, has not been seen in public since June 8, when he arrived in Havana. Two days later, he had surgery for a “pelvic abscess” and since then, his government has offered little detail as to the extent of his condition.
His Twitter site carried a message Friday saluting Venezuela’s military on a national holiday, though he did not provide any information about his health.
“A big hug to my soldiers and to my beloved people,” the message read. “From here, I am with you in the hard work every day.”
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A telephone call June 12 to a state-run TV station in Caracas was the last public communication from the leader. The Cuban government released a photo of Chávez on June 17 being visited in his hospital room by Fidel and Raul Castro.
Specifics on Chávez’s condition have been scarce. Defense Minister Carlos Mata Figueroa said he talks to Chávez every day, and he is “stronger than ever.”
But critics such as opposition deputy Américo de Grazia have demanded the government issue a daily medical bulletin. He also said Chávez’s treatment in Cuba was an affront to Venezuelan doctors.
De Grazia and others have called for Chávez to temporarily delegate powers to Vice President Elías Jaua, citing an article of the constitution that requires presidents to transfer power in case of a “temporary absence.”
Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro countered that Congress’ approval of Chávez’s trip, which included stops in Brazil and Ecuador before Cuba, is all the authorization he needs to continue governing from abroad.
During the June 12 telephone call, Chávez said he couldn’t say with “mathematical certainty” when he would return to Venezuela.
The opposition media are full of speculation on whether Chávez has a life-threatening disease such as cancer, and even whether he is still alive. Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington said the unsettled situation is a result of Chávez’s “unwillingness to share information.”
Javier Corrales, an Amherst College political scientist who specializes in Venezuela, said the real issue is the “nonchalance” of Chavez’s party, the PSUV.
“The ruling party is either hiding something major, or is instead revealing something embarrassing: the extent to which it has become the mere appendage of one man.”
Special correspondent Mery Mogollon reported from Caracas, and Chris Kraul from Bogotá, Colombia.
Material from The Associated Press is included in this report.