Virginia Lopez in Caracas
guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 2 January 2013 17.28 GMT
Venezuela's vice-president was due to fly back on Wednesday from the Cuban hospital bed of Hugo Chávez after warning his compatriots to ignore "enemy" rumours of the president's imminent demise.
Nicolás Maduro returns to a Caracas gripped by uncertainty about the wellbeing of a leader who has dominated the country's political landscape since 1999, but not been seen in public since he rushed to Havana for emergency cancer surgery three weeks ago.
Several new year festivities have been cancelled, masses have been arranged for supporters to pray for the recovery of Chávez and the government has urged the populace to focus on serenity and unity. What many want, however, is definitive news on whether the president will be healthy enough to be sworn in to his fourth term in office on 10 January.
On Tuesday night, Maduro, in a pre-recorded interview with regional broadcaster Telesur said Chávez was "conscious of how delicate his recovery was". Maduro, added that the president had urged him to keep the Venezuelan people informed "regardless of how hard the truth might be at times".