CARACAS, Venezuela – The Venezuelan government showed the first photos of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chávez in more than two months.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas presented the images on Friday of a smiling Chávez flanked by his daughters in Havana, Cuba, where he is undergoing cancer treatment.
Chávez is shown looking at Thursday's issue of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma in the photos, which were also broadcast on television by Chávez's son-in-law, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza.
The government showed the images amid widespread speculation and rumors in Venezuela about Chávez's delicate condition following his Dec. 11 cancer surgery.
Villegas said Friday that Chávez is breathing through a tracheal tube that makes it difficult for him to speak. Government opponents have been demanding more information about Chávez's condition, and have been asking why he hasn't spoken by phone on television as he often did during previous treatments in Cuba.
The government's updates since December 11 have remained optimistic but lacking detail.
"The president is in charge and making decisions," Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said just this past Saturday after meeting with Brazil's foreign minister. "It's a slow, slow recovery process. But he is fighting his battle with great faith, and clinging to Christ and clinging to life ... and with the conviction that he is going to win this battle, too."
Jaua, who visited Chávez in Cuba last week, said the 58-year-old president has been making political and economic decisions. On Friday, for instance, the government announced it is devaluing the currency.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, whom Chávez named as his potential successor before the surgery, has said that the president should be able to return home once his condition permits it.
Some analysts say they expect that sooner or later Chávez's delicate health could make necessary a new election to replace him.
"The transition has already begun in Venezuela, and the election campaign has also begun," said Tulio Hernandez, a sociologist and professor at the Central University of Venezuela. "The transition has also begun in people's heads. Sometimes, there are mistakes among government spokespeople, who start to speak of Chávez in the past tense."
Based on reporting by the Associated Press.