CARACAS, Venezuela -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is being
treated for "respiratory deficiency" after complications from a severe
lung infection, his government said, pointing to a deepening crisis for
the ailing 58-year-old president.
Chavez hasn't spoken publicly or
been seen since his Dec. 11 operation in Cuba, and the latest report
from his government Thursday night increased speculation that he is
unlikely to be able to be sworn in for another term as scheduled in less
than a week.
"Chavez has faced complications as a result of a
severe respiratory infection. This infection has led to respiratory
deficiency that requires Commander Chavez to remain in strict compliance
with his medical treatment," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said
Thursday night, reading the statement on television.
government's characterization raised the possibility that Chavez might
be breathing with the assistance of a machine. But the government did
not address that question and didn't give details of the president's
"It appears he has a very severe pneumonia that he
suffered after a respiratory failure. It is not very specific," said Dr.
Alejandro Rios-Ramirez, a pulmonary specialist in Puerto Vallarta,
Mexico, who is not involved in Chavez's treatment. "It does imply the
gravity of his pulmonary infection that led to a respiratory failure. It
doesn't mean yet that he is breathing with a machine."
Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at Georgetown University's Lombardi
Cancer Center in Washington, said such respiratory infections can run
the gamut from "a mild infection requiring antibiotics and supplemental
oxygen to life threatening respiratory complications."
"It could be a very ominous sign," Pishvaian said.
government expressed confidence in Chavez's medical team and condemned
what it called a "campaign of psychological warfare" in the
international media regarding the president's condition. Officials have
urged Venezuelans not to heed rumors about Chavez's condition.
statement didn't point to any particular rumors but said "this campaign
aims ultimately to destabilize the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela ...
and end the Bolivarian Revolution led by Chavez."
Venezuela's opposition has demanded that the government provide more specific information about Chavez's condition.
has undergone four cancer-related surgeries since June 2011 for an
undisclosed type of pelvic cancer. He also has undergone chemotherapy
and radiation treatment.
He was re-elected in October to another
six-year term, and two months later announced that the cancer had come
back. Chavez said before the operation that if his illness prevented him
from remaining president, Vice President Nicolas Maduro should be his
party's candidate to replace him in a new election.
This week, the
president's elder brother Adan and National Assembly President Diosdado
Cabello joined a parade of visitors who saw Chavez in Havana, and then
returned to Caracas on Thursday along with Maduro.
"In the past
hours, we've been accompanying President Hugo Chavez and taking him the
courage and strength of the Venezuelan people," Maduro said on
television. Appearing next to Cabello visiting a government-run coffee
plant in Caracas, he said they had been with Chavez together with the
president's brother, his son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, Oil Minister Rafael
Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.
Chavez's health crisis
has raised contentious questions ahead of the swearing-in set for Jan.
10, including whether the inauguration could legally be postponed and
what will happen if Chavez can't begin his new term. The plans of
Chavez's allies remain a mystery.
The Venezuelan Constitution says
the presidential oath should be taken Jan. 10 before the National
Assembly, and officials have raised the possibility that Chavez might
not be well enough to do that, without saying what will happen if he
The constitution says that if a president or
president-elect dies or is declared unable to continue in office,
presidential powers should be held temporarily by the president of the
National Assembly, who is now Cabello. It says a new presidential vote
should be held within 30 days.
Opposition leaders have argued that
Chavez, who was re-elected to a six-year term in October, seems no
longer fit to continue as president and have demanded that a new
election be held within 30 days if he isn't in Caracas on inauguration
But some of Chavez's close confidants dismiss the view that
the inauguration date is a hard deadline, saying Chavez could be given
more time to recover from his surgery if necessary.
Isturiz, a state governor and leader of Chavez's United Socialist Party
of Venezuela, said Thursday that if Chavez's swearing-in isn't held Jan.
10, it will be up to the Supreme Court to determine the place and date
of the ceremony.
"The president has a right to recover," Isturiz said in remarks published by the state-run Venezuelan News Agency.
Mayor Antonio Ledezma, an opposition politician, proposed on Thursday
that a commission travel to Cuba to determine the state of Chavez's
health. He said the delegation should be made up of doctors, lawmakers
and other officials such as state governors, including opposition leader
"I'm not asking for permission to go to Cuba. I
think it's our right to go there and see what's going on," Ledezma said
in comments reported by the television channel Globovision. "Enough
mysteries. Venezuela isn't a colony of Cuba."
Some of the brewing
disagreements could begin to be aired Saturday, when the National
Assembly, which is controlled by a pro-Chavez majority, convenes to
select legislative leaders. That session will be held just five days
before the scheduled inauguration day.