Jokes and laughs with Chavez in Cuba, ally says
Venezuela's top diplomat said Monday that he shared jokes and laughed together with President Hugo Chavez during a meeting in Cuba, where the socialist leader has been recovering after cancer surgery.
Foreign Minister Elias Jaua spoke about the meeting in messages on his Twitter account, providing an upbeat account nearly six weeks after an operation that pushed the president out of public view.
In an initial message, Jaua said: "Coming out of the meeting with our President Comandante Hugo Chavez. We shared jokes and laughed."
"He asked me to pass on, to the people and the Armed Force, his thanks for so much loyalty," Jaua said in another message, using the formal name for Venezuela's military.
Jaua also said that Chavez made decisions "about our participation" in an upcoming summit meeting in Chile, and was "very happy because the Bolivarian dream continues advancing" - a reference to 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the namesake of Chavez's Bolivarian Revolution movement.
Jaua met earlier with Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez. He didn't give details about Chavez's condition, but his description was the latest of multiple accounts by government officials that have pointed to an improvement after complications that included a severe respiratory infection.
Argenis Chavez, one of the president's five brothers and the president of the National Electric Corporation, said in a government statement on Monday night: "We're all eager for his return."
He earlier had told The Associated Press that he expected the president's return in the "coming days." But in the statement he said that was incorrect and that those in charge of providing official updates on Chavez's health are Vice President Nicolas Maduro and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas.
"The decision about the head of state's return to the country is in the hands of the medical team that is accompanying him," Argenis Chavez said in the statement.
The president hasn't been seen or spoken publicly since he left for Cuba on Dec. 10 for his fourth cancer-related operation.
The president's younger brother said he recently saw and talked with Chavez in Havana, though he didn't specify when or say how the president looked. He said that Chavez remained in Cuba accompanied by his children.
Jorge Arreaza, the president's son-in-law and science minister, returned to Venezuela after spending recent weeks in Cuba, where he had at times provided information on Twitter about the president and those who came to visit him.
Arreaza appeared in a televised event in Chavez's home state of Barinas on Monday, though he didn't make any comments about the president's condition.
Maduro said in a televised interview on Sunday that Chavez is finishing with a "post-operative" phase of his treatment and next is to enter a "new phase of treatment," which he said would be announced.
"He's climbing the hill. He is becoming stabilized in all his values," Maduro said, without giving details.
The opposition has demanded more information about Chavez's condition. The president has been undergoing treatments for cancer since June 2011 but has declined to specify the type of pelvic cancer he is fighting or the location of tumors that have been removed.
Chavez's allies in the National Assembly indefinitely postponed the president's inauguration, which had been scheduled for Jan. 10. The opposition has argued that was unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court sided with the government and ruled that the president could take the oath of office before the court at a later date.
A jailed former defense minister, Raul Baduel, has joined other government critics in accusing the president's allies of trampling on democratic norms.
"A falsification of the state has been taking shape," Baduel told the AP in written responses to a questionnaire over the weekend.
Baduel said that democratic institutions in the country have been degraded and "everything revolves around the personal ambition of Hugo Chavez to remain in power in spite of the destruction of the country." He said the other branches of government are acting in submission to the executive branch.
Baduel also accused the military's current commanders of taking actions that "infringe on these constitutional precepts."
"I'm sure that the democratic spirit of the Venezuelan majority will form a common front to return to the democratic path through the orchestration of non-violent political defiance," Baduel said.
The former military chief was convicted of embezzlement and abuse of power, but has insisted he is innocent and dismissed the case against him as a politically motivated reprisal for his opposition to Chavez.
Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.