CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez's continued silence in the week since his return to Venezuela has only deepened the mystery about his health.
While tweets and letters have been issued in Chavez's name, and officials insist they have had long meetings with him, no photos have emerged and even an ally as close as Bolivian President Evo Morales was turned away without a bedside meeting.
Some Venezuelans have questioned whether the socialist president is at a military hospital in Caracas at all, whether he even returned from Cuba or whether he is in fact still alive. Many Venezuelans say they no longer know what to believe.
Chavez hasn't spoken publicly since before his Dec. 11 surgery in Cuba, perhaps because of a breathing tube, and he has been seen only in a handful of photographs that the government released on Feb. 15. They showed Chavez smiling as he reclined in a bed, with two of his daughters beside him.
The lack of images or messages has been a stark change for a leader who used to speak on television almost every day for hours at a time.
Opposition newspaper editor Teodoro Petkoff said Chavez's post-return invisibility has ratcheted up the surreal nature of a situation that he called "politically Kafkaesque."
"The president returned from Cuba, but not a few people think he remains there, given that the practice of keeping him invisible was moved from the island to his own land," Petkoff wrote in an editorial published Tuesday in the newspaper Tal Cual.
Waves of rumors have swept the nation since Chavez, 58, first announced in June 2011 that he had a cancerous tumor removed from his pelvic region.
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