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Venezuelans on edge, await news about Chavez

CARACAS, Venezuela — Supporters and opponents of President Hugo Chavez alike nervously welcomed the new year Tuesday, left on edge by shifting signals from the government about the Venezuelan leader’s health three weeks after cancer surgery in Cuba.

Chavez has not been seen or heard from since the Dec. 11 operation, and officials have reported a series of ups and downs in his recovery — the most recent, late Sunday, announcing that a respiratory infection had put the president in a “delicate” state.

Jorge Rodriguez, a Chavez ally and mayor of a Caracas district, reiterated on Tuesday that the president is going through a “complex post-operative process.”

He told reporters that Venezuelans have shown an outpouring of compassion and support for a leader who has “been planted in the hearts of millions.” Rodriguez urged Venezuelans to keep Chavez in their prayers and expressed hope the president would recover.

Chavez’s son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, who is the government’s science minister and has been with the president in Cuba, urged Venezuelans in a Twitter message Monday night not to believe “bad-intentioned rumours” circulating online. “President Chavez has spent the day calm and stable, accompanied by his children,” Arreaza said in the message.

His tweet came a day after Vice-President Nicolas Maduro’s grim statement from Havana that Chavez had suffered new complications due to a respiratory infection. Maduro had said last week, before seeing Chavez, that the president had been up and walking.

Political opponents of the socialist Chavez have complained that the government hasn’t told the country enough about his health, and even some of his supporters said Tuesday that they wished they knew more.

“We’re distressed by El Comandante’s health,” said Francisca Fuentes, who was walking through a downtown square with her grandchildren. “I think they aren’t telling us the whole truth. It’s time for them to speak clearly. It’s like when you have a sick relative and the doctor lies to you every once in a while.”

Chavez has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011. He has declined to reveal the precise location of the tumors that have been surgically removed.

 
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