CARACAS, Venezuela -- Amid a heated national debate over the state of his health, the Venezuelan government on Friday released photographs of President Hugo Chávez for the first time since he had surgery in Cuba more than nine weeks ago.
The four photos showed Mr. Chávez lying in bed and smiling, with two of his daughters, Rosa Virginia and María Gabriela, on either side of him.
Jorge Arreaza, the minister of science and technology who is married to María Gabriela, said the photos were taken on Thursday. In three of the photos Mr. Chávez is holding a copy of what Mr. Arreaza said was Thursday's edition of Granma, the Cuban newspaper.
"There he is with his family, always attentive to the people of Venezuela, always attentive and in charge of his functions, working tirelessly," Mr. Arreaza said.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that doctors had controlled a severe lung infection that Mr. Chávez contracted in the hospital. But he added that the president was breathing with a "tracheal tube," making it difficult for him to speak.
In the photos Mr. Chávez wore what appeared to be a white and blue jacket, which covered his throat. The tube was not visible.
Mr. Chávez has had four cancer-related operations in Cuba since June 2011. The latest was on Dec. 11. But in contrast to his previous absences from the country, Mr. Chávez has remained out of sight and has not even posted on Twitter or telephoned a government television program, which he often did before. That has led to widespread speculation about the severity of his illness, especially after he could not return from Cuba in time to be sworn in for the start of his new term.
Government officials have repeatedly insisted that he is continuing to run the government from his hospital bed in Havana, but the political opposition has long challenged that assertion, questioning how he could manage the country and be too sick to communicate with the public directly.
As Mr. Chávez's absence has dragged on, the opposition has consistently demanded that the government provide proof that he is well enough to lead the nation. Some have even questioned whether he is still alive.
On Friday, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, responded to the release of the pictures, posting on Twitter: "How the spokesmen of the government keep lying to the people."
In another tweet he said: "A few days ago, the liars said they talked with the Pdt., now they say he can't talk! They make fun of their own people."world
This article originally appeared in The New York Times.