* Chavez still in Cuba after June 10 operation
* Absence has fueled debate, speculation at home
(Adds quotes from Chavez's brother)
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, June 22 (Reuters) - The most verbose president on
the planet is strangely silent.
Venezuela's Hugo Chavez, an avid tweeter whose speeches
routinely go on for hours, has barely communicated in public
since a June 10 operation in Cuba that has become increasingly
shrouded in mystery and speculation as the days have gone by.
Usually on TV several times a day, Chavez has also been
invisible except for a photo session with Cuba's President Raul
Castro and its revolutionary leader Fidel Castro, where Chavez
was smiling and upright but notably frailer.
Government ministers and Chavez supporters say there is
nothing to worry about: the operation to remove an abscess in
his pelvis was a success, two weeks is a normal recovery period
and the "Comandante" will return triumphantly home soon.
"To stop the rumors and speculations, I can give evidence
of the president's health because I arrived last night from
Havana," his brother Adan told state TV Wednesday.
"He is recovering satisfactorily. We don't know exactly
when he'll be back ... but in a few days, 10 days, 12 days, he
should be here. ... He's a very strong man."
Pro-government groups have been ready for days to fete
Chavez's return to the Miraflores presidential palace, reviving
and suspending plans as rumors of his return come and go.
Opponents say the lack of details on his medical state show
the nature of Chavez's government.
"Under authoritarian governments, there are photos. In
democracy, there is information," opposition legislator Americo
de Grazia pointedly told parliament this week.
Chavez's foes have jumped on the Cold War-style whiff of
secrecy over his health, hinting he may suffer from something
really serious like cancer, or is at least abusing the
constitution with the unexplained and prolonged absence.
They are particularly upset that Chavez has been signing
laws from Cuba, saying those might be illegal.
FIT FOR SUMMIT?
In his only public utterances -- a phone call with a TV
network two days after the surgery -- Chavez actually fueled
rather than dampened speculation by noting there were no
"malignant" signs found.
The famously workaholic and coffee-swilling Chavez also
vowed to be back home in a "few days," which has not happened.
He is supposed to host a Latin American leaders' summit in
Venezuela on July 5, so there is a widespread assumption his
goal is to be back at his usual energetic and loquacious best
by that time.
Opposition newspapers, however, have reported that a
military hospital is being spruced up, possibly to receive him
upon return from Cuba. They have also been making hay out of
deadly prison riots and electricity cuts to give an impression
of chaos and collapse in Chavez's absence.
His stay in Cuba has highlighted yet again the absence of
an obvious successor in the ruling Socialist Party and the
power vacuum there would be without him.
One of Venezuela's best-known political analysts, Luis
Vicente Leon, said the "blackout" of information could mean
Chavez is really unwell, or be a masterful ploy to enhance his
image with a grand return to public life.
"Having decided to turn his life into a reality show to
demonstrate his strength, he has obviously decided not to show
his weakness," he said.
"But I wouldn't be surprised if we see a grand re-launch.
If they want a show, then it's strategic to generate a vacuum
that will amplify the magic of his return ... to show that
Superman overcomes all adversities."
Chavez's near-disappearance from public life actually
predates his Cuban operation. Prior to that, colds then a knee
operation kept him off the airwaves and left him on crutches,
though he did manage brief visits to Ecuador and Brazil.
The once-slender and sports-loving president has prided
himself on a vigorous physical image during his 12 years in
power. But in the last few years, the 56-year-old has gained
weight and looked more haggard, though nothing beyond the
normal aging process.
He plans to run for re-election in 2012 and serve at least
one more six-year term.
(Additional reporting by Mario Naranjo; Editing by Kieran
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