Venezuela's Chavez in Charge, Giving Orders

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro dismissed rumors about Hugo Chavez's health, saying the ailing leader was giving orders to subordinates who listen "with a knee on the ground."

President Chavez has remained out of sight since checking into a Caracas military hospital eight days ago after two months of cancer treatment in Cuba, fueling speculation about his health and ability to lead.

"He is a president in power and he has a team of men and women who are loyal, around him, with a knee on the ground," Maduro said at a book launch.

The tracheal tube helping Chavez to breathe "does not prevent him from communicating and giving orders on all aspects of the economic, social and political life of our country," he said.

"He has a team of men and women who are subordinated. You understand that word? Absolutely subordinated to his command, to his leadership. We recognize him as a father, a chief, a guide, in all the meanings of the revolution and life," Maduro said.

The government said last Thursday that Chavez was still suffering from a respiratory infection and that the tendency was not favorable. But the next day, Maduro said the president had held a five-hour meeting with aides, communicating by writing.

The opposition has voiced doubts about the meeting, asking why images were never shown if it really took place.

Maduro, meanwhile, took a page from Chavez's book, taking a swipe at the United States.

"(President Barack) Obama or (Secretary of State) John Kerry declared that they respect Venezuela. No, no, no. US imperialism does no rest, nor will it ever rest until it reconquers this historic place," he said at the headquarters of state-run oil firm PDVSA.

Venezuela accused Washington of interfering in its domestic affairs last week after the US State Department said a new election must be held if Chavez is deemed incapacitated.

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