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Venezuelan Military Chief: Chavez Still in Charge

In this picture taken from Venezolana de Television, VTV, via APTN Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez delivers a televised speech aired from Cuba, June 30, 2011

Venezuela's military chief says President Hugo Chavez is still in charge of the country following two operations in Cuba, including the removal of a cancerous tumor.

Army General Henry Rangel Silva said on state television Friday that Chavez is recovering well, noting that he expects the 56-year-old president to return to Venezuela soon.

Chavez confirmed in a televised speech to the Venezuelan people late Thursday that he underwent successful surgery in Cuba to remove a tumor with "cancerous cells."

He did not say what type of cancer is involved, but voiced hope he is on the road to recovery.

Chavez said the surgery was performed after an initial operation in Cuba three weeks ago (June 10) to remove a pelvic abscess. His prolonged stay in Cuba after the first surgery had sparked rumors he may have cancer.

On Wednesday, Venezuelan state television aired footage of the Venezuelan leader walking and talking with his friend, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro. Also Wednesday, Venezuela canceled a summit of Latin American leaders scheduled for next week in Caracas, due to Chavez's health status.

The two-day summit was supposed to be the first meeting of a new regional bloc called the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States [CELAC]. Chavez was to host the summit, which coincided with the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence from Spain.

Venezuelan opposition figures have demanded more information about the president's health, saying Chavez and his aides should be more straightforward. Some opposition politicians have said Vice President Elias Jaua should replace Chavez until he recovers, a move Jaua has rejected.

Sean Burges, a professor of international relations at Australian National University, told VOA that Chavez's absence has left a power vacuum in Venezuela, because he is the ultimate authority on all policy matters. Burges said Chavez's illness could lead to uncertainty among Venezuelans heading into the 2012 elections because there is no clear plan of succession in case the president dies.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.