Chávez suffers health complications

Mon, Dec 31, 2012, 00:00

Hugo Chávez has suffered “new complications” following his cancer surgery in Cuba, his vice president said, describing the Venezuelan leader’s condition as delicate.

Vice president Nicolas Maduro spoke with a solemn expression in a televised address from Havana, saying he had spoken with Mr Chávez and that the president sent greetings to his homeland.

Mr Maduro did not give details about the complications, which he said came amid a respiratory infection. “Several minutes ago we were with President Chávez. We greeted each other and he himself referred to these complications,” Mr Maduro said, reading from a prepared statement.

The vice president was seated alongside Mr Chávez’s eldest daughter, Rosa, and son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores.

Mr Maduro’s comments suggest an increasingly difficult fight for the ailing president.

The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery December 11th, and government officials have said he might not return in time for his scheduled January 10th inauguration for a new six-year term.

“The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health condition,” Mr Maduro said. “President Chávez’s state of health continues to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a process not without risks.”

Mr Maduro held up a copy of a newspaper confirming that his message was recorded yesterday.

“Thanks to his physical and spiritual strength, Comandante Chávez is facing this difficult situation,” Mr Maduro said.

Mr Maduro said he would remain in Havana “for the coming hours” but didn’t specify how long.

Mr Maduro, who arrived in Havana on Saturday for a sudden and unexpected trip, is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to see Mr Chávez since the surgery in Cuba, where the president’s mentor Fidel Castro has reportedly made regular visits to check on him.

Before flying to Cuba, Mr Maduro said that energy minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the interim.

Before his operation, Mr Chávez acknowledged he faced risks and designated Mr Maduro as his successor, telling supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential election were necessary. Mr Chávez said at the time that his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011.

Medical experts say that it is common for patients who have undergone major surgeries to suffer respiratory infections and that how a patient fares can vary widely from a quick recovery in a couple of days to a fight for life on a respirator.

Mr Maduro’s latest update differed markedly from last Monday, when he had said he received a phone call from the president and that Mr Chávez was up and walking.

The vice president spoke below a picture of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of Mr Chávez’s leftist Bolivarian Revolution movement.

Mr Chávez has been in office since 1999 and was re-elected in October, three months after he had announced that his latest tests showed he was cancer-free.

Opposition politicians have criticised a lack of detailed information about his condition, and last week repeated their demands for a full medical report.

Information minister Ernesto Villegas defended the government’s handling of the situation, saying during a televised panel discussion that Mr Chávez “has told the truth in his worst moments” throughout his presidency.

Mr Villegas said a government-organised New Year’s Eve concert in a Caracas plaza had been cancelled, and he urged Venezuelans to pray for Mr Chávez.

Mr Chávez’s daughter Maria, who has been with the president since his surgery, said in a message on her Twitter account: “Thank you people of Venezuela. Thank you people of the world. You and your love have always been our greatest strength! God is with us! We love you!”