Supporters of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez displayed new confidence yesterday after the government released the first post-surgical photographs of the ailing leader, in which he appears bed-ridden, but smiling in the company of his daughters.
The pictures show the 58-year-old Chavez lying on his back in a Havana hospital and leafing through Thursday’s edition of the official Cuban newspaper Granma.
Chavez supporters rejoiced at the confirmation that the president was alive.
The four images broke a virtual news blackout for Venezuelans who have been living in limbo without their media-happy comandante — a populist firebrand who is the most visible face of the Latin American left.
For more than two months Venezuelans had not seen a photograph or TV image of Chavez, nor heard the voice of a man usually omnipresent across state media. Sketchy government updates about his health fueled speculation he was dead.
Chavez’s absence has also enraged political opponents, who have wondered aloud who is running Venezuela, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
He was last seen as he left Caracas airport on Dec. 10 for treatment in Cuba.
On Thursday night, Venezuelan opposition leader Henrique Capriles kept up his assertion that the government has probably been lying about Chavez’s health, suggesting the president is in worse shape than officials have said he is.
Capriles expressed fresh anger over of the release of the pictures and said they had not clarified the president’s true health condition.
However, the pro-Chavez camp was jubilant to see their hero, and could not resist a dig at the rumors simmering on social media that Chavez was no more.
“Wow! For a dead man you look really good, comandante,” @mormaldonado tweeted.
“He’s alive, he’s alive. Thanks be to God and to the whole world. This is proof,” said Dora Salcedo, 67, one of dozens of Chavez fans who gathered in downtown Caracas after the photographs came out.