CARACAS, July 2 (Reuters) -Venezuela was mired in uncertainty today over how long President Hugo Chavez would take to recover from a cancer operation, despite assurances by allies he will be fit to run for re-election next year.
The government said Chavez remains fully in charge. He planned to meet with several of his ministers in Cuba for talks today.The saga over the 56-year-old's health has convulsed South America's biggest oil exporter, underlining the lack of any obvious successor while stoking fears of a dangerous power vacuum and bitter political infighting.
Since Chavez somberly told his people and the world late on Thursday that he had undergone surgery in Cuba to remove a cancerous tumor, many have questioned whether he will be able to run the nation with the same irrepressible vigor as before.
A phone call to Cuban state TV on Friday did little to quell the speculation and his condition remained hotly debated from Venezuela's jungle hinterlands to its Caribbean beaches. “Nobody expected this illness ... we are very optimistic we are going to come out of this,” Chavez said in the call.
He seemed keen to demonstrate he was still running Venezuela during his recuperation in Havana, discussing energy and infrastructure projects.
Chavez did not say when he would be back home and one source close to the Venezuelan medical team following Chavez's recovery in Cuba said the diagnosis had revealed a cancer that required aggressive treatment that could take several months.
A wing of the Caracas Military Hospital was being prepared to receive him when he returns, the source said.
No official updates on Chavez's condition have been released except for his own accounts on Thursday and Friday.
Local media have said he could have prostate cancer.
Chavez's army chief and vice president have gone out of their way to assure anxious Venezuelans that their hitherto apparently invincible president remains fully in charge of the government in the already politically volatile OPEC member.
But their inability to specify a date for his return and the lack of details about the seriousness or type of cancer he is suffering are keeping observers guessing about his future after 12 years as the country's charismatic leader.
“Chavez will be out (of Venezuela) for the time that is necessary for him to recover,” Vice President Elias Jaua told the Telesur TV network. “The president is at the head of the country and will continue to be at the head of the country.”
There have been feverish rumors about Chavez' long-term health prospects since he vanished from public view in Cuba after his initial operation for a pelvic abscess on June 10, followed by the more serious cancer tumor extraction.