Venezuelan President, Hugo Chavez
Officials in President Hugo Chavez's government denied rumours that the leftist leader may have died while undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba six months ahead of an election in South America's top oil exporter, reports Reuters.
In the nine days since he left for Havana to have two final radiation sessions for an undisclosed cancer, Chavez has only addressed Venezuelans by short messages on Twitter to cheer supporters and hail the advances of his socialist "revolution."
His unusually long silence - during previous trips to Cuba the verbose Chavez has made phone calls to state television - has stirred speculation about his health and doubts over his condition as he campaigns for re-election in an October 7 vote.
In the past, Havana published pictures and video of him meeting his mentor, former Cuba leader Fidel Castro. There have been no images released from this visit, so far.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles leapt to the attack and complained that Chavez was running the country remotely by Twitter from a hospital on the communist-led Caribbean island.
Chavez's political ally and president of the National Assembly legislature Diosdado Cabello dismissed the rumours in a tweet: "The truth is that these embittered people don't learn. They've been saying for days that the Comandante died."
"The only thing that is lifeless here is that loser," Cabello said, referring to Capriles, the opposition's best hope for defeating Chavez and ending his 13 years in power.
Cabello said on Sunday that the president was recovering and would return this week to Venezuela, where he is expected to sign a new labour law that shortens the work week and extends workers' benefits and is due to go into effect on May 1.
Even opposition journalist, Nelson Bocaranda, who has often broken news on Chavez's treatment in the absence of official details from the government, helped to cast doubt on the rumours.
Bocaranda tweeted that the 57-year-old leader watched the Barcelona-Real Madrid soccer game on Saturday with his daughters in Havana. Venezuelan government officials insist Chavez is fully in touch and capable of governing the country from Cuba.
"You will see me again soon," Chavez said by Twitter on Monday as Cabello held a press conference where accused the opposition of having a "morbid obsession" with Chavez's health.