CARACAS, Venezuela, June 28 (UPI) -- Continuing speculation over the health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has once again raised questions about the huge armament deals the populist leader signed in the heat of an escalating quarrel with Colombia over U.S. military presence in that country.
Several of the major deals were secured by Russia, some against loans that drew criticism from the Venezuelan opposition.
Colombian ties with the Chavez administration are slowly on the mend, and the ailing leader has also mellowed his rhetoric that the military buildup was to forestall a U.S. invasion of the country.
Chavez has been visiting Cuba ostensibly for medical treatment that is variously described by aides as minor or routine. Few details of the president's medical condition or treatment have emerged.
Meanwhile, tens of billions of dollars of oil revenues pledged and more billions borrowed against future oil sales are a source of renewed controversy because Venezuela has slipped once again into a recessionary slide for a third consecutive year.
Critics said Venezuela's lack of economic growth was proof the government had not performed well enough to engineer an economic recovery or make the best use of Venezuela's oil income.
Venezuela's opposition wants the government to release more information on Chavez's health amid reports he underwent pelvic surgery in Cuba. The former soldier has not been seen in public since June 10, when he reportedly went through surgery. The long absence has fueled rumors in the capital and abroad about Chavez's future.
Some cynics said Chavez might be delaying his return to dramatize his participation in the planned nationwide celebrations to mark the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence from Spain. Chavez is due to host a regional summit July 5-6 on the Caribbean island of Margarita that coincides with the anniversary celebrations.
Defense Minister Gen. Carlos Mata Figueroa said Chavez was in Cuba for a "quick recovery process" and was in the prayers of the armed forces, who expect him to lead the military parade July 5.
Officials had no comment on opposition critics' claim Chavez has prostate cancer.
"The armed forces are praying for him to recover even faster so he can be with us for the great military parade," Figueroa said.
The opposition meanwhile is poised to oust Chavez at next year's presidential election and said the government's long silence indicates a disregard of its constitutional duties.
Former presidential candidate Manuel Rosales in a statement said the uncertainty was bad for Venezuela.
"The nation needs a clear message that will end this national and international speculation, as well as the discomfort and suspicion caused by the mysterious silence," Rosales said.
Chavez aides also did not say if the president remained in charge or had delegated authority to a senior aide. Critics said the government's decision-making process was at a standstill.