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“We all said, thank God, he’s okay,” she said, smiling.

Dr. Gustavo Medrano, a lung specialist at the Centro Medico hospital in Caracas, said if Chavez is talking, it suggests he is breathing on his own despite the respiratory infection and is not in intensive care. But Medrano said he remained skeptical about Maduro’s comments and could deduce little from them about Chavez’s prognosis for recovery.

“I have no idea because if it was such a serious, urgent, important operation, and that was 14 days ago, I don’t think he could be walking and exercising after a surgery like that,” Medrano said.

Over the weekend, Chavez’s ally, Bolivian President Evo Morales, made a lightning visit to Cuba that only added to the uncertainty.

Journalists had been summoned to cover his arrival and departure in Havana, but hours later that invitation was canceled. No explanation was given, though it could have been due to confusion over Morales’ itinerary as he apparently arrived later than initially scheduled.

Cuban state media published photos of President Raul Castro receiving Morales at the airport and said he came “to express his support” for Chavez, his close ally, but did not give further details. He left Sunday without making any public comments.

For the second day in a row Tuesday, Morales made no mention of his trip to Cuba during public events in Bolivia.

Yet more questions surround Chavez’s political future, with the surgery coming two months after he won re-election to a six-year term.

If he is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan Constitution calls for new elections to be held. Chavez has asked his followers to back Maduro, his hand-picked successor, in that event.

Venezuelan officials have said Chavez might not return in time for his Jan. 10 inauguration.

Opposition leaders have argued that the constitution does not allow the president’s swearing-in to be postponed, and say new elections should be called if Chavez is unable to take the oath on time.

But government officials have said the constitution lets the Supreme Court administer the oath of office at any time if the National Assembly is unable to do it Jan. 10 as scheduled.

Associated Press writers Peter Orsi in Havana, Vivian Sequera in Caracas, Camilo Hernandez in Bogota, Colombia, and Paola Flores in La Paz, Bolivia, contributed to this report.