HAVANA — Hugo Chavez appeared on Cuban state television, with revolutionary icon Fidel Castro, for the first time since the Venezuelan president underwent emergency surgery in Cuba.
The 56-year-old appeared to have lost weight, but was animated in speech as usual as he stood alongside Castro, 84, the footage showed. The video also aired in Venezuela to dispel rumors about Chavez’s medical condition.
The footage showed Chavez and Castro speaking in a garden as well as seated in a room; in one, the political allies are shown reading Tuesday’s edition of the Communist Party newspaper Granma, presumably to dispel repeated allegations that Chavez could be ailing or dead, and images of him less than fresh.
“This morning, a brotherly meeting was held between comrade Fidel and the Venezuelan president… at which they chatted” about their recollections of past meetings, a statement read out on state television said.
The Venezuelan government has not addressed details of Chavez’s condition. And opposition lawmakers are up in arms in Caracas as many think it is unconstitutional for the president to be governing from abroad.
But Caracas has rejected reports that Chavez was in critical condition following surgery in Cuba, and insisted that the firebrand leftist leader was recovering well.
“A picture says more than 1,000 words,” Venezuelan Information Minister Andres Izarra said in Caracas after seeing the video of Chavez, adding that he had personally spoken with his boss. “We can see him there, very dynamic. We can see that he is recovering.”
He said Chavez had a right to take the time he needed to recover before returning to Venezuela.
Chavez “has not abandoned his constitutional responsibilities; indeed he just called a cabinet meeting to orient us all,” added Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua, noting there had been no temporary transfer of presidential power.
The president was not heard from personally in Venezuelan media for almost two weeks.
That uncharacteristic silence from someone known for his verbal omnipresence left some foes speculating that Chavez might have had plastic surgery, or might want to drum up sympathy for his illness ahead of a 2012 election in which he will seek a third term.
Venezuela’s president arrived in Cuba on June 8 on the final leg of a trip authorized by the National Assembly that also included Brazil and Ecuador. He was rushed into emergency surgery after suffering sharp pain diagnosed as a pelvic abscess that required immediate surgery June 10.
Chavez is Communist Cuba’s main economic and political ally. His cut-rate oil keeps the cash-strapped and isolated Raul Castro regime afloat.