There have been some official details. Chavez, 58, first underwent surgery for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer in Cuba in June 2011 and went back this month after tests had found a return of malignant cells in the same area where tumors had already been twice removed. Venezuelan officials said that following a six-hour surgery Dec. 11, Chavez suffered internal bleeding that was stanched and a respiratory infection that was being treated.
Just five months earlier, Chavez had announced he was free of cancer. But he acknowledged the seriousness of his illness earlier before flying to Cuba this month by designating Maduro as his successor and telling his supporters to vote for the vice president should new elections be necessary. Outside doctors have said that judging from the information Chavez has provided, his cancer is likely terminal, though the government has never confirmed that.
On Christmas Eve, Maduro surprised Venezuelans by saying he had spoken to Chavez by telephone and that the president was up and walking. With no other details, that only set off another round of furious speculation.
‘‘I don’t think he can be standing up walking,’’ said Dr. Gustavo Medrano, a lung specialist at the Centro Medico hospital in Caracas. ‘‘Unless ... there are a lot of lies in this and the surgery was not six hours ... but something else much simpler, much simpler, maybe a half-hour operation, or two hours, something like that and that he is now recovering. That is possible.’’
Chavez supporters tweeted their relief and joy. Opponents tweeted incredulity. They traded insults in the comment sections of newspaper websites. Some posters demanded to know where the proof was that the president was even still alive. Others wondered if he had ever been sick in the first place. Chavez supporters shot back that the rumor-mongering should stop.
One Chavez foe finally posted on the Ultimas Noticias newspaper website, ‘‘Bla, bla, bla ... He’s getting better, he’s dying, he has nothing, he’s strong as a bull, he can’t get of bed, all the hypotheses are valid because there is no proof of anything.’’
Amid the raging rumors, Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, sent out a Twitter message from Havana last week pleading for it all to stop.
‘‘Respect for my family and especially respect for my people. Enough lies! We are with papa. ALIVE, fighting and recovering. WITH GOD,’’ she wrote.
Teresa Maniglia, a press officer at the presidential palace, has kept up a steady stream of cheerleading tweets.
‘‘CHAVEZ all the time.’’
That’s for sure.
Follow Alexandra Olson on Twitter at http://twitter.com/alexolson99