The Venezuelan government has released photos of Hugo Chavez, giving the first glimpse of the absent president since December. He hasn't been able to address his people, it said, due to complications from cancer surgery.
The snapshots released on Friday showed a bed-ridden Chavez in a hospital room contently reading the Cuban newspaper Granma, flanked by a daughter on each side, intently looking over his shoulder.
Jorge Arreaza, Venezuela's science minister and son-in-law of the president, displayed the photos on television on Friday, which he said were from the day before.
"We wanted to share with you now some shots from last night of our commander accompanied by his two daughters Rosa Virginia and Maria Gabriela ... yesterday on the day of friendship, on Valentine's Day," said Arreaza.
Chavez, 58, has received cancer treatments in Cuba on numerous occasions since his publicized diagnosis in June 2011. However, his most recent convalescence has drawn speculation from political opponents about the seriousness of his condition, as the previously boisterous leader has not been seen or heard from since leaving for Cuba in December.
During the two-month period, the government has released some information regarding the president's health, but, compared to previous surgeries, the details have been few.
Chavez using tracheal tube
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said a recent respiratory infection, which had developed after his surgery, continued to prevent Chavez from making a public speech. The comment came in response to speculation about the long-time leader's failure to directly address Venezuelans to explain the situation.
"Under these circumstances, which are being treated, the commander is currently breathing through a tracheal tube," said Villegas.
"After two months of a complicated post-operative process, the patient remains conscious, with his intellectual functions intact, in close communication with his government team," he said.
The information minister made no mention of a possible date of return.
Venezuela's government is still waiting for Chavez, who has acted as president for 14 years, to be sworn in for his next six-year term. In early January, the Supreme Court ruled that he could be inaugurated after the originally scheduled date of January 10.
The opposition alliance Democratic Unity Roundtalbe (MUD) has accused the government of violating the constitution.
kms/ipj (AFP, Reuters, AP, dpa)