Conflicting signals on ailing Chavez spark confusion

People hold pictures of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez embracing Cuba's former President Fidel Castro during a mass to pray for Chavez recovery at a church in Havana January 12, 2013. (REUTERS/STRINGER)

CARACAS: Mixed signals from officials in Venezuela sparked confusion Monday over the condition of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez, under treatment in a Cuban hospital for over a month.

Chavez is “fighting for his life,” former Vice President Elias Jaua said.

“The situation is complex and delicate, but it is true that Hugo Chavez has fought and is fighting for his life,” said Jaua, who was in office from January 2010 until October.

Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas, however, said that Chavez, hospitalized in Cuba following his fourth cancer operation last month, was doing better.

“Despite his delicate health state since his complex surgery on Dec. 11, his general health has improved in recent days,” Villegas said in a statement read on radio and television.

The president’s previously disclosed severe pulmonary infection is “under control” but he still requires treatment for “respiratory failure,” Villegas added.

Chavez, whose OPEC-member nation controls the world’s largest proven oil reserves, has been out of sight since leaving for Cuba for the latest round of treatment in the 18 months since his condition was made public.

Uncertainty about his status has fueled speculation about his prospects for a recovery – and his political future.

The latest, conflicting reports followed a denial from Chavez’s brother Adan Saturday that the 58-year-old was in a coma. He insisted the Venezuelan leader was responding well to treatment and making progress on a daily basis.

The man Chavez has tipped to succeed him one day, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, met his ailing boss late Saturday.

Maduro also met Cuban President Raul Castro along with Venezuelan parliament President Diosdado Cabello, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.

A slew of leftist leaders and Venezuelan officials have also come to Chavez’s bedside, and Brazil’s former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is planning a trip to Havana in late January, according to his spokesman.

During his 2003-10 rule, Lula, himself a cancer survivor, built a strong relationship with Chavez.

Last Thursday, Venezuela’s government was forced to postpone the inauguration when it became clear Chavez could not attend. Authorities insist the constitution allows him to take the oath of office at a later time.

Although the opposition objected, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader’s health, the Supreme Court rejected the bid, ruling that the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on January 15, 2013, on page 10.




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