Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been conspicuously missing from his country for nearly a month.
The bellicose autocrat has been out of the public eye since June 10, when he had surgery in a Cuban hospital to remove an abscess in his pelvis.
rumours have since sprung up that Chavez – a once-vigorous former paratrooper – might be seriously ill.
In an effort to quell this speculation, Chavez’ defence minister said today that the president is “stronger than ever” but doesn’t plan to rush home until he has fully recovered.
Opposition lawmakers have jumped on the Cold War-era secrecy surrounding the president’s illness. They are particularly upset that Chavez has been signing laws from his Havana hospital bed.
Venezuelan political experts say Chavez might be hiding out to avoid any appearance of weakness. Chavez prides himself on his physical image, but Reuters notes that “in the last few years, the 56-year-old has gained weight and looked more haggard, though nothing beyond the normal ageing process.”
Others think the government might try and turn the situation to its advantage with an elaborate homecoming to garner sympathy for Chavez in advance of Venezuela’s elections this year.
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