Venezuelans puzzle over official lingo on Chavez health crisis

Tue Jan 22, 2013 1:24pm EST
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By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's bespectacled and shaven-headed information minister stands solemnly at the microphone to impart the latest news on President Hugo Chavez's cancer.

For a couple of minutes, vague descriptions of the patient's "stability", "progressive tendency" or "complications" waft across TV and radio airwaves into millions of Venezuelan homes.

"You see, he's recovering," says one Venezuelan man in a group watching live one of Information Minister Ernesto Villegas' medical updates, almost a national ritual since the socialist Chavez disappeared from public view six weeks ago.

"Rubbish - it's obvious he's dying," retorts another as the friends draw varying conclusions from the confusing report.

The handling of information over Chavez's condition has become as controversial as the man himself, and every official word is picked over ad nauseam in Venezuela's own version of the "Kremlinology" analysis of political minutiae in the former Soviet Union.

Since Chavez underwent his fourth and most serious cancer operation in Cuba on December 11, he has not spoken a word in public. The government has tried to fill the information void with regular communiques - nearly 30 so far - by Villegas and Vice-President Nicolas Maduro.

They are often tricky to interpret.


Venezuela's Communication Minister Ernesto Villegas reads a statement about the health condition of President Hugo Chavez during a news conference in Caracas January 3, 2013. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout