Caracas, Venezuela: The burst of joy many Venezuelans felt on President Hugo Chavez's return from Cuba after cancer treatment is petering out, and the veil of secrecy surrounding him is only getting thicker.
They have not seen him since his surprise homecoming on Monday after a more than two month absence, nor have they heard his voice. Supporters are already a little rattled and their doubts about his condition will only deepen.
Political analyst Angel Alvarez said Chavez "is as invisible as he was in Cuba." In December, the 58-year-old president underwent his fourth round of cancer surgery there in less than two years.
All eyes are on the military hospital where Chavez was reportedly admitted. The government has not issued a formal medical report on how he is doing, nor provided any visual proof that he is actually in the country.
"Evidently, he does not want to be seen. If he wanted to, or could, he would show his face," added Alvarez, of the Central University of Venezuela.
"His followers were under the impression he was coming back to govern," he warned. "Unless he gets backs to work soon he is going to disappoint his followers."
Bolivian President Evo Morales came to Caracas on Tuesday to see his fellow leftist populist leader, but even he was not allowed to see him. He only got to talk to doctors and Chavez relatives.
Nicmer Evans, another political scientist, said that behind all the secrecy there are legitimate security and health factors.
"This anti-paparazzi concept is important because we are talking about a sick human being getting better," Evans said.
But the opposition wants more openness about Chavez's condition.
"The mystery surrounding President Chavez's condition does not seem to have eased with his return home. It would seem it is the exact opposite," the opposition newspaper Tal Cual said in an editorial.
Chavez is home now, not in Cuba, and "to some extent there is more intrigue," it added.
The planned return was a secret shared only among Chavez's family and his closest aides, such as Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello.
"Chavez surprised us," said Aristobulo Isturiz, a senior member of the ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and a state governor.
Alvarez said Chavez's return was very un-Chavez: "surreptitious, and with no evidence whatsoever of his physical presence."
That stands in stark contrast to Chavez's usual talkative, bombastic style.
Chavez announced his return on his Twitter account in the dead of night.
Since his surgery December 11, the only photos released of him came out only last Friday. Chavez was seen bed-ridden but smiling, looking through a newspaper with two of his daughters at his side.
At the Caracas military hospital where Chavez is said to be continuing his convalescence, soldiers are on guard outside to keep out journalists and curious onlookers.
Local press reports quote hospital employees as saying they know nothing and have not seen the president.
Maduro has asked Chavez fans gathered outside the hospital with banners and photos of the president to keep their distance.
Besides the president's health, public debate centers on his delayed swearing in for another term, which he won with a triumph in October presidential elections.
Chavez missed the scheduled inauguration ceremony January 10, and it has been delayed indefinitely, angering many in the opposition.
Evans said the government could be preparing some kind of big announcement on Chavez "such as, that he is going to remain in power or that he is going to resign."
In the latter case, elections would have to be held within 30 days, and the ruling party candidate would be Chavez's handpicked political heir, Vice President Maduro.
Story first published:
February 21, 2013 22:48 IST