Back in Venezuela, Chavez stays out of the public eye

Venezuelans on Wednesday had yet to get a glimpse of their ailing president three days after he returned home from a two-month trip to Cuba for cancer treatment.

Admitted to the military hospital in Caracas upon his arrival Monday, the once-omnipresent leader has stayed out of the public eye -- even as his supporters took to the streets to welcome him back.

On Tuesday, it was unclear whether Chavez had even seen Bolivian President Evo Morales, who stopped over in the capital to visit his close ally on his way to the United States.

Venezuelans had neither seen nor heard from their usually ubiquitous head of state since he left for Havana on December 10 for another round of cancer surgery, though on Friday the government released photos of him bedridden but smiling.

The government said then that it was hard for Chavez to speak because he has been fitted with a tracheal tube due to a post-operative respiratory infection.

The president announced his return on Twitter but in an unusual move in the country he dominates both politically and personally, his arrival was not broadcast on television.

Morales met Tuesday with Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked political heir who has essentially been running Venezuela in the leader's absence, and with National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

One of Chavez's daughters, Maria Gabriela, tweeted her appreciation for the visit.

"Nice meeting with our brother Evo. He came to support us and express the love of the Bolivian people. What a man! Thank you Evo!" she wrote, without clarifying whether the two leaders had met.

Meanwhile, the governor of the northern state of Aragua, Tareck El Aissami, told state television that Maduro had briefed ruling party leaders on the new treatment plan for Chavez, without giving specifics.

The government has asked Chavez supporters who had gathered outside the military hospital to be patient and to leave so as not to disrupt the goings-on there.

State-issued updates on Chavez's condition have been sketchy, fueling speculation that it is worse than officials admit. Authorities have never specified what type of cancer the 58-year-old has been treated for.

A pressing question is when or if Chavez, who has undergone surgery four times since mid 2011, will be sworn in by the Supreme Court to begin a new term after he won elections last October. He was too sick to return home for his scheduled inauguration on January 10.

A Supreme Court source said the tribunal is ready and waiting for the go-ahead from the president and his medical team.

But pollster Luis Vicente Leon has said uncertainty remains over whether illness will force Chavez -- who has been in power in the oil-rich nation for 14 years -- to step down and call early elections.

A poll released Sunday said that if elections were held now between Maduro and opposition leader Henrique Capriles, the former would win by 14 percentage points.