CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is
confronting "new complications" due to a respiratory infection nearly
three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery, his vice president said in
Cuba as he visited the ailing leader for the first time since his
Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked weary and spoke
with a solemn expression in a televised address from Havana on Sunday.
He described Chavez's condition as delicate.
"Several minutes ago
we were with President Chavez. We greeted each other and he himself
referred to these complications," Maduro said, reading from a prepared
The vice president's comments suggest an increasingly
difficult fight for Chavez. The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or
heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11,
and government officials have said he might not return in time for his
scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration for a new six-year term.
president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the
visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health
condition," Maduro said. "President Chavez's state of health continues
to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a
process not without risks."
Maduro was seated alongside Chavez's
eldest daughter, Rosa, and son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, as well as Attorney
General Cilia Flores. He held up a copy of a newspaper confirming that
his message was recorded on Sunday.
"Thanks to his physical and spiritual strength, Comandante Chavez is facing this difficult situation," Maduro said.
said he had met various times with Chavez's medical team and relatives.
He said he would remain in Havana "for the coming hours" but didn't
specify how long.
Maduro, who arrived in Havana on Saturday for a
sudden and unexpected trip, is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official
to see Chavez 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, Maduro said that Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime.
situation does not look good. The fact that Maduro himself would go to
Cuba, leaving Hector Navarro in charge only seems understandable if
Chavez's health is precarious," said David Smilde, a University of
Georgia sociologist and analyst for the Washington Office on Latin
America think tank.
Smilde said that Maduro probably made the trip
"to be able to talk to Chavez himself and perhaps to talk to the
Castros and other Cuban advisers about how to navigate the possibility
of Chavez not being able to be sworn in on Jan. 10."
twice in his nationally televised speech that Chavez has suffered new
complications only reinforces the appearance that the situation is
serious," Smilde said.
Before his operation, Chavez acknowledged
he faced risks and designated Maduro as his successor, telling
supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential
election were necessary.
Chavez 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's 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.
latest update differed markedly from last Monday, when he had said he
received a phone call from the president and that Chavez was up and
The vice president spoke on Sunday below a picture of
19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of
Chavez's leftist Bolivarian Revolution movement.
Maduro said that Chavez had sent year-end greetings to his homeland and a "warm hug to the boys and girls of Venezuela."
vice president expressed faith that Chavez's "immense will to live and
the care of the best medical specialists will help our president
successfully fight this new battle." He concluded his message saying:
"Long live Chavez."
Chavez 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.
have criticized a lack of detailed information about Chavez's condition,
and last week repeated their demands for a full medical report.
Minister Ernesto Villegas defended the government's handling of the
situation, saying during a televised panel discussion on Sunday night
that Chavez "has told the truth in his worst moments" throughout his
He also referred to a new surge of rumors about Chavez's condition and called for respect for the president and his family.
said a government-organized New Year's Eve concert in a downtown
Caracas plaza had been canceled, and he urged Venezuelans to pray for
Chavez'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!"
Allies of the president also responded on Twitter, repeating the phrase: "Chavez lives and will triumph."