Vice President Nicolas Maduro surprised Venezuelans with a Christmas Eve announcement that President Hugo Chavez is up and walking two weeks after cancer surgery in Cuba, but the news did little to ease uncertainty surrounding the leader's condition. Sounding giddy, Maduro told state television that he had spoken by phone with Chavez for 20 minutes last night. It was the first time a top Venezuelan government official had confirmed talking personally with Chavez since the Dec. 11 operation, his fourth cancer surgery since 2011. "He was in a good mood," Maduro said. "He was walking, he was exercising."
Chavez supporters reacted with relief, but the statement inspired more questions, given the sparse information thus far provided. Venezuelan officials said that, following the six-hour surgery two weeks ago, Chavez suffered internal bleeding that was stanched and a respiratory infection that was being treated. "It's unclear what they mean by exercise," one expert says. "Was it four little steps? I think he is still in critical condition." Others expressed skepticism that Chavez could be up and about after such major surgery. If he is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan constitution calls for new elections to be held. Chavez has asked his followers to back Maduro in that event. Venezuelan officials have said Chavez might not return in time for his Jan. 10 inauguration.