First photos of Chavez in Cuba post-surgery appear

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ? A convalescing Hugo Chavez appears smiling and talking with Cuba’s Fidel Castro in the first pictures of the Venezuelan president released since his tumor surgery in Havana.

One of the photographs released by Cuban state media shows Chavez in a track suit sitting across from Castro. They are in front of a Venezuelan flag and a painting of South American liberator Simon Bolivar.

Another shows Chavez wearing a red, blue and black jumpsuit, walking in a carpeted room without any aid. He is smiling.

The photos reportedly taken inside a Cuban hospital were posted Friday on state website Cubadebate.

Chavez flew to Cuba on Feb. 24 to have a growth removed in the same part of the pelvic region where a larger, malignant tumor was extracted last year.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) ? Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Friday he’s recovering quickly from tumor surgery in Cuba.

He said doctors have put him on a special diet, and he’s taking daily walks and spending time with close relatives.

“I cannot neglect my recuperation treatment for even a minute,” Chavez said during a brief telephone call to state television. “I continue recovering, thanks to Venezuela’s support, the Cuban people, the doctors here in Cuba, to the love from the people that fills me.”

“I’m taking flight, raising the fatherland of the future,” he added.

Chavez flew to Cuba on Feb. 24 to have a growth removed in the same part of the pelvic region where a larger, malignant tumor was extracted last year.

There has been no word on whether the new lesion is cancerous. During his phone call, Chavez did not provide specific details of the surgery or the tumor that was removed.

Chavez, 57, is seeking re-election Oct. 7.

His campaign rival, Henrique Capriles, has wished for the president to have a full and quick recovery, but also criticized Venezuelan authorities for releasing little specific information about the president’s health.

Chavez has repeatedly vowed to recover his health and handily defeat Capriles, although some political analysts say the socialist leader’s illness and medical treatment could keep him sidelined for weeks, bolstering his rival’s chances in October’s election.

In a Tweet sent following his contact with state TV, Chavez thanked supporters for participating in a rally led by National Assembly Diosdado Cabello and urged them to gear up for the election campaign.

“Move forward with preparation for the campaign,” Chavez stated.

Cabello reassured government supporters at the rally in northeastern state of Yaracuy that Chavez would soon return.

“Chavez will continue commanding the ship of the Bolivarian Revolution,” shouted Cabello from a stage overlooking the crowd, referring to the president’s political movement. “We ask the Cuban people to return the ‘comandante’ in good health.”

Earlier Friday, Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, the defense minister and close Chavez confidant who was quoted in 2010 as saying the military would not accept an opposition election victory, said Venezuela’s armed forces are dedicated to upholding democracy.

“We are strongly convinced the democratic system must prevail in the country,” Rangel said.

He did not elaborate, but his statements appeared to be aimed at assuaging government opponents who have voiced concerns about the military’s role of safeguarding polling stations and voting materials.

“We are an institution that supports the election process,” Rangel said.

During his 13 years in office, Chavez has long promoted trusted officers and has increasingly sought to put his political stamp on the military command. Chavez survived a failed 2002 coup in which dissident military officers were involved, and he has since tried to ensure tighter control.

Chavez also instituted a new official salute for military members, “Socialist fatherland or death.” He later changed it during his cancer struggle to “We will live and we will win!”

The former paratroop commander’s influence over the armed forces has led to concerns among government adversaries that the military is putting its weight behind the president’s political movement and no longer sees itself as an apolitical institution.

“The armed forces will be key to seeing the results of the election are respected,” said Moya-Ocampos, an analyst working for London-based consulting firm IHS Global Insight and IHS Janes Information Group, suggesting Chavez’s foes have no reason to be worried.

“The military is committed to political stability and to the Venezuelan constitution,” he said.


Christopher Toothaker on Twitter: