Hugo Chavez seen in 1st pictures since leaving Venezuela for cancer treatment

Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced Tuesday, March 5, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez died at age 58. He had been struggling with health issues and an unspecified cancer for two years. The career military officer-turned-politician won friends and enemies as he launched poverty-fighting programs, nationalized key industries, and forged alliances with other leftist leaders in Latin America, particularly the Castro brothers in Cuba, during his nearly 15 years in office. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez poses for a photo with his daughters, Maria Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 14, 2013. It was the last published photo of the leader.
AP Photo/Miraflores Presidential Press Office

CARACAS, Venezuela Venezuela's government showed the first photos of ailing President Hugo Chavez in more than two months on Friday, presenting images of him smiling alongside his daughters in Cuba.

Chavez is smiling broadly and looking at Thursday's issue of the Cuban Communist Party newspaper Granma in the photos, which were shown on television by Chavez's son-in-law, Science Minister Jorge Arreaza.

The government released the images amid widespread speculation and rumors in Venezuela about Chavez's condition following his Dec. 11 cancer surgery. Chavez hasn't been seen or directly heard from since he left for Cuba on Dec. 10, in contrast to previous stays for medical treatment in Havana.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Friday that Chavez is breathing through a tracheal tube that makes it difficult for him to speak. Government opponents have been demanding more information about Chavez's condition, and have been asking why he hasn't spoken to the nation to explain his condition.

Hugo Chavez with his daughters, Maria Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez with his daughters, Maria Gabriela, left, and Rosa Virginia as he holds a Feb. 14, 2013 copy of Cuba's state newspaper at an unknown location in Havana, Cuba, Feb. 14, 2013.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro has traveled repeatedly to Havana, and Maduro has shown on television documents signed by Chavez. On Wednesday, Maduro said that Chavez is now undergoing "extremely complex and tough" treatments, which he didn't specify.

Medical experts consulted by The Associated Press have said the government's recent account of "systemic medical treatment" could mean various types of chemotherapy or drug treatments, depending on the type of cancer.

The 58-year-old president has been undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba on-and-off since June 2011. He has had tumors removed from his pelvic region, and has also undergone prior rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment.

Since December, the government has provided regular updates, though there have been fewer updates in recent weeks, and often with only vague descriptions of Chavez's condition.