Hugo Chavez has reappeared in photos and videos on state television, chatting with Fidel Castro in Cuba after a prolonged seclusion following surgery that has left Venezuelans guessing about their president’s health.
The images aired Tuesday night were the first to be released in 10 days and showed Chavez talking animatedly, both on his feet next to Castro and seated alongside one of his daughters.
Venezuelan officials again said the 56-year-old Chavez is recuperating smoothly after pelvic surgery, but they gave no details about his condition or about when he might return home.
“We see him recovering, fully recovering,” Information Minister Andres Izarra said on state television as the short video clips and photographs were shown of Chavez standing and talking with Castro outdoors.
Cuban state television also broadcast pictures of Tuesday’s get-together.
Usually a prolific speaker who makes televised speeches most days, Chavez has been largely out of sight since the government announced June 10 that he had undergone pelvic surgery. He spoke once in a telephone call to state television two days after the operation, and appeared in photographs alongside both Fidel and Raul Castro that were published June 18.
Chavez has said the surgery removed a pelvic abscess, yet a lack of details about his condition has fed widespread speculation that the president might be very ill.
Vice President Elias Jaua has led government events in Chavez’s absence. The leftist president’s elder brother, Adan, rallied supporters at a Sunday prayer meeting for Chavez’s health. Allies insist the president is firmly in control.
Adan Chavez said a week ago that his brother was expected to leave Cuba within 10 to 12 days, though he also said exact date was uncertain.
Next week, Venezuela will celebrate the 200th anniversary of its independence from Spain, and Uruguayan President Jose Mujica, a Chavez ally, said he expected Venezuelan leader would return home in time for the July 5 anniversary.
Speaking on a television program in Uruguay on Tuesday night, Mujica also joked that “Fidel Castro kidnapped Chavez to ensure his recovery.”
“Chavez is very temperamental,” Mujica said. “They operated on him and he needs about 20-something days of recovery. Fidel practically kidnapped him, didn’t let him go, because he didn’t trust that in Venezuela (Chavez) would pay attention to the treatments.”
Mujica didn’t say whether he had spoken with Venezuelan or Cuban officials about Chavez’s condition.
One of the photos showed Chavez and Castro reading and talking about the back page of Tuesday’s edition of Cuba’s Communist Party newspaper Granma. That page contained one article, about school uniforms for the coming Cuban school year.
“They discussed different current events,” Izarra said.
The two conversed in what looked like a patio, with trees in the background. Chavez wore a track suit jacket with the colors of Venezuela’s flag while Castro sported a red baseball cap and a blue-and-white track suit.
“There we are seeing commander Chavez very dynamic,” said Izarra, who also reported that he spoke with Chavez earlier Tuesday about government-related issues.
The words of Chavez and Castro were inaudible on the video, and Venezuelan folk music played during the short presentation of video clips and photos.
Some of Chavez’s political opponents were not convinced Chavez looked healthy.
“I saw him looking very thin. His face looked very thin,” said Gustavo Azocar, an opposition politician. “I find it strange that state television shows the president talking with Fidel Castro, but it does not broadcast him talking to the country.”
Opposition politicians have said the government should give more information about Chavez’s health, and some have suggested the president should temporarily cede his duties to the vice president.
But Izarra’s Twitter account carried a message earlier in the day saying Chavez is governing “like a dynamo” following the operation.
On state television later, Izarra held up a document that he said Chavez had signed Tuesday approving funds for a government housing project.
Cuban state television also broadcast a one-minute segment on the meeting showing the same pictures, including some with Chavez’s daughter Rosa sitting with the two men.
Cuba’s report also gave no details about Chavez’s health, but said it would offer more details about the encounter later.