Chavez photos cheer supporters, but questions remain
Images of a smiling but bedridden Hugo Chavez - the first direct proof he is alive after an absence of almost 10 weeks - cheered supporters of the cancer-stricken Venezuelan president.
But analysts say the pictures have not settled the fundamental question that has kept Venezuela on edge since his fourth round of cancer surgery in Havana two months ago: is he fit to govern?
"The political uncertainty continues," said sociologist Ignacio Avalos, a professor at the Universidad Central de Venezuela. "Although the photographs bring calm to some Venezuelans, principally Chavez's supporters, they are not a convincing element that points to the president's recovery and that he is capable of resuming his duties."
The Venezuelan government on Friday showed four still photographs of a smiling Chavez in his Havana hospital bed. With his eldest daughters, Rosa Virginia and Maria Gabriela, at his side, he is depicted reading Thursday's edition of the Cuban newspaper Granma in two pictures, providing a way to date the images.
His son-in-law, Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza, who presented the photographs on state television, said Chavez breathes through a tube inserted in his trachea, which makes it difficult for him to talk. In the pictures, Chavez wears a baseball-type jacket that goes up to his neck, possibly covering it.
Venezuelans, accustomed to saturation coverage of Chavez during most of his 14 years in power, had not seen a current photograph or television image of him since he left for Havana more than two months ago.
With only sketchy official accounts of his condition, rumours have proliferated over the true state of his health, with many people believing he was dead or dying, despite government claims he was taking decisions and signing decrees.
But reactions to the pictures are as polarised as Venezuelan society, said Avalos.
Political analyst Farith Fraija said the images "are a way of showing that the president is taking government actions, even if communication is a bit difficult for him".
Opposition leader Henrique Capriles on Friday accused the government of "lying", saying that just days ago officials had said Chavez could talk and "now they say he can't".