Two weeks after surgery in Cuba, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is stronger than ever but will not rush home until he is ready, announced Defence minister General Carlos Mata Figueroa.
I call him every day to give him news, he is making great improvement the top military official told state TV in the latest comment from a Chavez ally aiming to quash speculation the prolonged absence means he may be seriously sick.
He's getting better ... stronger than ever, the minister added.
At the end of a regional tour on June 10, Chavez underwent an operation in Havana for a swelling in his pelvis and has been out of public sight since, except for one set of photos.
The government originally said he would return in a few days, but as time has gone by and Chavez has remained in Cuba, rumours have swirled in Venezuela that the 56-year-old former soldier may have something worse like cancer.
His absence has highlighted the populist leader's total dominance of Venezuelan politics – not to mention the air-waves – and the lack of an obvious successor.
His senior ministers look dull and slightly hapless in his absence, underling his unique political charisma, said LatinNews, a think tank based in Britain.
With opposition politicians denouncing the secrecy surrounding Chavez's operation as a throwback to Cold War-era authoritarian governments, allies have come out in the last 48 hours to counter the negative publicity.