Caracas: The Venezuelan government on Friday released first images of leader Hugo Chávez since he went to Cuba for cancer surgery in December.
Addressing a press conference, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas informed that the Venezuelan President cannot speak after having a tracheotomy.
The images show Chavez smiling alongside his daughters. He is propped up on what appears to be a bed in the photos, a blue pillow behind his head. His face appears puffy, but he is smiling broadly, while his daughters Rosa and Maria lean in close to him.
In other images, Chavez is shown looking at Thursday`s issue of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma, his daughters still flanking him. The photos were shown on television by Chavez`s son-in-law, Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza.
The government released the images amid widespread speculation and rumours in Venezuela about Chavez`s condition following his December 11 cancer surgery. Chavez hasn`t been seen or directly heard from since he left for Cuba on December 10, in contrast to previous stays for medical treatment in Havana.
The photos were shown on state television after Ernesto Villegas released new details about Chavez`s condition, including that he is breathing through a tracheal tube that makes it difficult for him to speak.
"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," Villegas said, reading from a statement on television.
Villegas reiterated that Chavez has overcome a respiratory infection that arose after the surgery, "although a certain grade of (breathing) insufficiency persists”.
"Given that circumstance, which is being duly treated, Comandante Chavez is currently breathing through a tracheal cannula, which temporarily hinders speech," Villegas said.
Government opponents have been demanding more information about Chavez`s condition, and have been asking why he hasn`t spoken to the nation to explain his condition.
Villegas also said that Chavez`s doctors are "applying vigorous treatment for his fundamental illness”, an apparent reference to cancer. He said that treatment "isn`t free of complications”.
Villegas said the Venezuelan government thanks Cuban leaders Raul and Fidel Castro "for the love and the care shown to our President”. He urged Venezuelans to keep praying for Chavez, and also expressed hope.
"We trust... that Comandante Chavez will overcome these delicate circumstances sooner rather than later to accompany his nation in the path to new victories," Villegas said, finishing the statement saying: "Viva Chavez!"
Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez had acknowledged there were risks and said that if his cancer fight prevented him from staying on as President, Vice President Nicolas Maduro should run in a new election to take his place.
The 58-year-old President has been undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba on-and-off since June 2011. He has had tumours removed from his pelvic region, and has also undergone prior rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Throughout the treatments, Chavez has not revealed the type of cancer or the location where tumours have been removed.
Since December, the government has provided regular updates, though there have been fewer updates in recent weeks, and often with only vague descriptions of Chavez`s condition.
(With Agency inputs)