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Illness keeping Chavez out of the public eye

The words in Spanish "Chavez is back" adorn a car window above an image of Chavez on the car door in Caracas, Wednesday, Feb. 20, 2013. President Hugo Chavez's sudden return to Venezuela after more than two months of cancer treatments in Cuba has fanned speculation that the president could be preparing to relinquish power and make way for a successor and a new election.

Ariana Cubillos/AP

Venezuela's cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez is still suffering from respiratory problems and the evolution of that condition "has not been favourable," the information minister said Thursday.

Mr. Chavez, who returned home early Monday after a fourth cancer surgery and more than two months of convalescence in Cuba, will receive more treatment for the breathing issue, Ernesto Villegas said.

"Medical treatment for the underlying condition [cancer] continues without present significant adverse effects so far," he said in a statement read and broadcast on television and radio stations in the country.

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Mr. Chavez "remains in communication with other family members and the government's political team, and is working in close collaboration with the medical team," Mr. Villegas added.

In stark contrast with Mr. Chavez's usually bombastic style and omnipresence in Venezuelan life, he announced his return on his Twitter account.

Since his surgery Dec. 11, the only photos released of him came out almost a week ago. Mr. Chavez was seen bed-ridden but smiling, looking through a newspaper with two of his daughters at his side.

At the Caracas military hospital where Mr. Chavez is said to be continuing his convalescence, soldiers are on guard outside to keep out journalists and curious onlookers.

Local press reports quote hospital employees as saying they know nothing and have not seen the President.

The burst of joy many Venezuelans felt on the President's return from Cuba appears to be petering out, and the veil of secrecy surrounding him has been maintained. The public has not seen Mr. Chavez since his surprise homecoming, nor have they heard his voice, leaving supporters rattled and allowing doubts about his condition to deepen.

Bolivian President Evo Morales came to Caracas on Tuesday to see his fellow leftist populist leader, but even he was not allowed to see him. He only got to talk to doctors and Chavez relatives.

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