Venezuela's Chavez 'working' again
Caracas - Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is back working on government affairs from Cuba after a successful operation for his suspected recurrence of cancer, allies said on Thursday.
Despite ministers' upbeat assessment of the 57-year-old socialist leader's state of health, rumours persist that his condition may be far worse than the official version.
That would have huge implications for the South American OPEC member given that Chavez is seeking re-election in October and has said he would like to rule for another decade or two.
The stakes are high, also, for the region. Cuba, Nicaragua and other leftist governments in the Caribbean and Central America depend on cheap oil subsidies and other largesse from the Chavez government.
Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza said Chavez, who had a possibly malignant lesion removed earlier in the week, had met with various Cabinet members late on Wednesday to discuss progress of the government's welfare plans.
"I've come out of a work meeting with the commandante-president," he said via Twitter, the preferred mode of communication of Chavez and his senior aides these days.
On Wednesday evening, Chavez broke his silence since leaving for Havana last week, to send greetings to Venezuela.
"Here I go, soaring like the condor!" he wrote in one of a flurry of upbeat Twitter messages, presumably from his room at Havana's Cimeq hospital where he is believed to be receiving treatment.
With tests due in coming days on tissue extracted during the operation, some pro-opposition journalists inside and outside Venezuela have been citing medical sources to say Chavez's cancer may have metastasised and be life-threatening.
The government has pilloried them as right-wing destabilisers, but details on Chavez's condition are scant.
Having thrived on an image of strength and energy since his first 1998 presidential election win, Chavez suffered a blow last year with the discovery of a cancerous tumour in his pelvis.
His credibility has taken a beating too, since he pronounced late last year that he had completely recovered, yet has had to return to Havana for more surgery on what he described as a possibly cancerous lesion in the same area.
There has been no word on when Chavez will return, prompting opposition calls for a replacement to be named.
Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has long been Chavez's personal and political mentor, and the Venezuelan leader prefers to go to Havana because there is less chance of media leaks.
Chavez's rival for the October 7 poll is Henrique Capriles, a 39-year-old state governor who hopes to woo former Chavez voters with a promise of a Brazilian-style "modern left" government.
He has repeatedly wished Chavez a speedy recovery "so he can see the changes coming to Venezuela".
Polls show Venezuelans evenly split between Chavez and the opposition, though they also indicate that the president's emotional connection with the poor and heavy spending on welfare projects make him a clear favourite.