BOGOTA -- Amid growing speculation that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez might be on the mend and plotting his homecoming, the administration Tuesday said that while El Comandante is recovering and cracking jokes it’s premature to talk about his return.
In an interview on VTV Television, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said the latest health reports out of Cuba were “very encouraging” and that Chávez was in “good spirits, sharing jokes with foreign minister Elías Jaua and very attuned to the situation in Venezuela.”
Also Tuesday, Bolivian President Evo Morales said that he had been in contact with Cuba on Monday and Sunday.
“Brothers and sister, we have very good news,” he told congress during his state of the union speech. “Our brother commander President Hugo Chávez is undergoing physical therapy to go back to his country.”
Chávez traveled to Havana Dec. 10 to undergo a fourth round of cancer surgery and has not been seen or heard from since. While the administration has provided regular health updates, many in Venezuela would like to hear from doctors or independent observers rather than Chávez’s political allies.
On Monday, Chávez’s brother, Argenis, the president of the Corpoelec state power company, was quoted by the Associated Press as saying the president would be home in “coming days.” Argenis later denied the news.
Even so, the optimism is in stark contrast to a few weeks ago when the administration said Chávez was fighting a “severe” pulmonary infection and was having trouble breathing after undergoing a “complicated” six-hour surgery. News reports — citing anonymous sources — have variously reported that Chávez has been in an induced coma or on life support. Last week, Univision reported that the 58-year-old leader had suffered a heart attack during his six-hour cancer surgery and had more recently been taken to Fidel Castro’s personal underground medical bunker.
The health news comes as government supporters are expected to take the streets Wednesday to mark the 55th anniversary of the fall of dictator Marcos Peréz Jiménez. Venezuela’s opposition had originally called for a mass march that day but called off the protest amid fears that the dueling marches might spark violence.
The coalition of opposition parties, known as the MUD, will be holding an indoor rally Wednesday to protest what they see as the administration’s routine violation of the constitution, including its insistence that Chávez remains in control even though he has been incommunicado for more than a month.