Ailing Chávez 'has severe lung infection'


Hugo Chávez’s recovery from cancer surgery is being complicated by “a severe lung infection” that has affected his breathing, Venezuela’s communications minister has said.

The brief medical update read by Ernesto Villegas on national television was the most precise information yet about the 58-year-old leader’s health following an operation on an unspecified cancer in Cuba on December 11th.

It followed demands from the country’s opposition that the administration dispel increasing uncertainty about Mr Chávez’s condition which has fuelled rumours that he will not be well enough to attend his inauguration for a new term on January 10th and might even be close to death.

The president has not been seen in public since December 8th when he gave a national address before travelling to Havana for treatment.

Mr Villegas denounced “the psychological war” being waged by “transnational media” in its reporting of the president’s health, which he claimed sought to destabilise the country.

Swearing in

But the minister gave no indication whether Mr Chávez would be fit enough to return to Venezuela by next Thursday for his swearing in following victory in October’s presidential election, only saying the government “reiterated its confidence” in the president’s medical team.

According to Venezuela’s constitution the oath of office can only be taken in the national assembly in Caracas.

After his return from a visit to Mr Chávez’s bedside, Venezuela’s vice-president Nicolás Maduro told a rally of Chávez supporters on Thursday night that their leader would be returning from Cuba “sooner rather than later”. But he did not indicate if this would be in time for the inauguration.

If Mr Chávez is unable to be sworn in next Thursday power then passes to the leader of the country’s national assembly Diosdado Cabello, who would then have to organise elections within 30 days.

Before leaving for Cuba President Chávez anointed Mr Maduro as his successor, saying he wanted supporters to vote for him if he was unable to take up his new term.

During his speech Mr Maduro dismissed rumours of a possible power struggle within the president’s movement.

He said Mr Cabello and himself “had sworn before Comandante Chávez . . . that we are going to be united together with our people”.

Mr Maduro is a trade union leader and represents the left-wing, civilian branch of chavismo, while Mr Cabello is an old army colleague of the president and is seen as a leader of the more nationalist, military wing of the movement.