Chavez silence fuels health fears
Fears are growing for the health of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba.
Mr Chavez has been out of sight for a week, speaking only through Twitter messages and written statements.
The lack of any appearances on television has Venezuelans wondering about what his unusual silence might say about his struggle with cancer, and whether Mr Chavez may be coping with a particularly tough phase of radiation therapy.
More than 30 messages have appeared on Mr Chavez's Twitter account since he left for Cuba on April 14. He has cheered on supporters with slogans such as "Let's continue building socialism!"
In others, he has praised his military commanders, announced funding for local governments and vowed to survive and win re-election in October. But he has seldom mentioned his cancer treatment.
National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello reiterated that Mr Chavez is expected to return to Venezuela soon.
"God willing, next week he'll be here again with us once he has finished the treatment," Mr Cabello said in a televised speech. He insisted that even when Mr Chavez is away in Cuba, "he leads just the same as if he were here in Venezuela".
"The commander's presence here isn't necessary, because just the same he's the commander of the revolution," Mr Cabello said.
Mr Chavez, who has been president since 1999, has long been a constant presence on Venezuelan television, often addressing the nation for several hours most days in addition to his marathon Sunday programme Hello, President.
But recently there have been no episodes of Hello, President, and Mr Chavez said he expected his final rounds of radiation therapy, which began last month, to be rough.