Venezuela shows Chavez photos, says he has trouble speaking

Fri Feb 15, 2013 5:07pm EST
 
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By Daniel Wallis and Marianna Parraga

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela published the first photos of cancer-stricken Hugo Chavez since his surgery in Havana more than two months ago and said the socialist president was breathing through a tracheal tube and struggling to speak.

The pictures showed the 58-year-old, smiling but with his face looking swollen, lying down in a hospital bed and flanked by his two daughters. In one, they were reading Thursday's edition of the Cuban state newspaper, Granma.

The photos were shown by Chavez's son-in-law, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, who has been traveling between Havana and Caracas to be at the Venezuelan president's bedside.

He said Chavez - whose political identity is built around long-winded speeches, meandering talk shows and casual chatter with supporters - was having trouble talking.

"He doesn't have his usual voice," Arreaza told Venezuelan state television. "He has difficulty communicating verbally, but he makes himself understood. He communicates his decisions perfectly. He writes them down."

Chavez has not appeared in public, and has still not been heard from, since the operation on December 11, his fourth surgery for cancer in his pelvic region first diagnosed in mid-2011.

Neither the pictures nor the new details on his condition offer solid clues as to when Chavez might be able to return home, or whether the disease will force him to step down.

Allies appear content to let Chavez continue governing silently from Havana indefinitely. They bristle when asked about how the long the unusual arrangement could last.   Continued...

 
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez smiles in between his daughters, Rosa Virginia (R) and Maria while recovering from cancer surgery in Havana in this photograph released by the Ministry of Information on February 15, 2013. REUTERS/Ministry of Information/Handout