Venezuela VP in Cuba to visit ailing Chavez
HAVANA (AP) — Venezuela's vice president arrived in Havana on Saturday in a sudden and unexpected trip to visit President Hugo Chavez as he recovers from cancer surgery.
Communist Party newspaper Granma published online a photo of a smiling Vice President Nicolas Maduro being greeted at the airport in the Cuban capital by the island's foreign minister, Bruno Rodriguez.
"From there, (Maduro) went directly to the hospital where President Hugo Chavez Frias is receiving treatment to greet his family members and Venezuelan Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza Monserrat, and to discuss with doctors the adequate moment to visit the President the same day," the paper said.
Granma added that Maduro was accompanied by Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores.
The previous night in Caracas, Venezuela, Maduro did not specify how long he would be away but said Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime. Maduro's announcement came at the end of a long speech at the inauguration of a state governor, and he offered no information on the purpose of his visit beyond seeing Chavez.
In a speech Saturday, Venezuela's National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello said only that Maduro went to Cuba to visit with Chavez and urge him "to follow his treatment." Venezuelan press officials in Caracas said they had no additional information Saturday.
Maduro's trip comes amid growing uncertainty about Chavez's health.
The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11, and government officials have said he might not return in time for his scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration for a new six-year term. There have been no updates on Chavez's condition since Maduro announced Monday night that he had received a phone call from the president who was up and walking.
Venezuela's opposition criticized Maduro for what they said was a lack of transparency surrounding Chavez's health.
"What I still don't understand is who is president," Lawmaker Alfonso Marquina said. "Who is governing the country now? As for the purpose of this sudden and improvised trip, only the national government knows."
Maduro is the highest ranking Venezuelan official to visit Chavez since the surgery. Bolivian President Evo Morales traveled to Cuba last weekend in a quick trip that only added to the uncertainty surrounding Chavez's condition. Morales has not commented publicly on his visit or even confirmed that he saw Chavez while he was there.
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