* Powerful trio meet Raul Castro, check on Chavez
* Venezuelan leader still unseen since Dec. 11 operation
* Opposition demand "truth" on president's condition
By Andrew Cawthorne
CARACAS, Jan 13 Venezuela's three most powerful
government figures after President Hugo Chavez were again
gathered in Havana on Sunday to check on their ailing leader's
condition and meet with Cuban allies.
Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, Congress head Diosdado
Cabello, and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez have been shuttling to
and from Cuba since the 58-year-old socialist president's fourth
and most serious cancer surgery a month ago.
Chavez, who missed his own inauguration for a new, six-year
term last week, has not been seen or heard from in public since
the surgery. Many Venezuelans are assuming his momentous 14-year
rule of the South American OPEC nation could be nearing an end.
Though acknowledging the gravity of the situation, officials
are trying to stay upbeat on socialist president's prospects for
recovery, and Chavez's brother on Saturday denied that Chavez
was in a coma.
"We are all Chavez!" and "Chavez will return!" were among
slogans sang and chanted at numerous solidarity rallies,
meetings and concerts across Venezuela over the weekend drawing
thousands of passionate and anxious supporters.
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Maduro, who
Chavez recently designated as his successor, informed
Venezuela's leader of the support for him back home. He gave no
more details of their encounter or the president's condition.
State media said Maduro, Cabello, Ramirez - who also heads
the powerful state oil company PDVSA - and Attorney General
Cilia Flores all met Cuban President Raul Castro over the
But there were no details of the talks.
'TELL THE TRUTH'
The joint presence of top Venezuelan officials in Havana
inevitably deepens rumors Chavez is at death's door - and draws
opposition criticism that Raul and Fidel Castro are giving
instructions behind the scenes.
But officials have been lashing "necrophilic" opponents for
such speculation, and Chavez's brother said on Saturday that, on
the contrary, he was improving daily.
One opposition leader, Julio Borges, said on Sunday the
secrecy around Chavez's exact condition was unacceptable.
"No one is asking for details of the operation or the
president's treatment, but that simply they tell the truth about
his health prognosis," said Borges, a right-wing legislator who
wants Chavez formally declared absent from office.
That would trigger the naming of a caretaker president, and
an election within a month, but Venezuela's Supreme Court has
ratified that Chavez remains president with Maduro in charge as
No. 2 until his health situation is clarified.
"It's been a year-and-a-half of contradictions and
announcements of his complete curing followed by relapses,"
Borges added, saying problems like inflation, housing shortages
and power-cuts were being neglected during a political impasse.
Since the disease was discovered in mid-2011, Chavez has in
fact wrongly declared himself cured twice, in an extraordinary
and unsettling saga for Venezuela's 29 million people.
The stakes are high for the wider region too. Cuba and a
handful of other leftist-ruled nations have for years been
depending on Chavez's aid to bolster fragile economies.