CARACAS--Rumors over President Hugo Chavez's health are again swirling in Venezuela as the leftist leader extends his longest absence from the public eye during his 14 years in office and as reports indicate he will miss a regional summit scheduled to start Friday.

The 58-year-old former army officer left for Cuba Nov. 28 to undergo follow-up treatment after his battle with an undisclosed type of cancer. The media-savvy president, known in years past for saturating the airwaves with long and frequent speeches, has not been seen in public since Nov. 15.

Though the president had declared himself cancer-free earlier this year, he has mostly kept out of the public eye since comfortably winning another six-year term in Oct. 7 elections. He has never stated what kind of cancer he suffered from and has received most of his treatment in Havana.

His absence has again raised speculation that the socialist firebrand, Washington's most vocal critic in the region, may not be able to complete another term.

"Since the October election there's been a significant drop in his appearances and even in his Twitter messages ... everything would seem to suggest that things are very serious," said Cynthia J. Arnson, director of the Latin American Program at the Woodrow Wilson Center.

Continue reading here