Hugo Chavez ‘joking and giving orders,’ minister says
HAVANA - Agence France-Presse
This file photo shows Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, left, AP PhotoVenezuela's top diplomat said Monday that President Hugo Chavez was joking and giving orders, after disappearing from the public eye six weeks ago for cancer surgery in Cuba.
Chavez designated Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his deputy before flying to Cuba for a fourth round of cancer surgery on December 11. He has not been heard from since.
Opposition members have demanded Chavez speak to the Venezuelan people in state media if he is able, but he has not.
"Compatriots just leaving a meeting with our Commander President Hugo Chavez. We shared some jokes and laughed," Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said in a message on Twitter.
"He made decisions on our participation in the CELAC Summit. So happy we are moving forward," added Jaua, referring to an upcoming summit of Latin American and Caribbean States this week in the Chilean capital Santiago.
"I passed along all of your blessings and love. Viva Chavez!" The Venezuelan government has been releasing only minimal information on the condition of Chavez, a 58-year-old former paratrooper who first came to power in the oil-rich country in 1999 and won another six-year term in October.
The charismatic and bombastic figurehead of the region's anti-American left could not attend his scheduled inauguration on January 10 because of his poor health, and his swearing-in ceremony has been postponed indefinitely.
Aides and family members have had to tamp down speculation that Chavez might not make a full recovery. He has yet to be seen in public, or address Venezuelans since leaving the country. He remains, presumably, in a Havana hospital.
Venezuela has the largest proven oil reserves in the world, allowing Chavez to project power across the region. Top ally Cuba -- the Americas' only Communist nation -- receives massive support from Caracas.
Last week, the opposition seized on just a few words -- Chavez's stamped signature on a decree -- to demand he clarify how sick he is and what he can and cannot do.
The official government gazette published a decree dated Caracas and carrying the stamped signature of Chavez in which Jaua was named as Venezuela's new foreign minister.
Henrique Capriles, a state governor Chavez beat in the elections, said it was puzzling that the decree carried the absent leader's name.
"If the president of the republic can sign decrees, I call on him to appear, and to speak to Venezuela and tell us what is happening in this government," Capriles said.
Officials have never disclosed the type or severity of Chavez's cancer, saying only that he has had a tumor removed from his pelvic region.