CARACAS/SAO PAULO/BRASILIA: Venezuela’s vice president said Tuesday that President Hugo Chavez has been making progress in his treatment for a severe respiratory infection and asked questions of his aides during a recent visit to Cuba, where the president is recovering.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on television that he and other officials including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez met with Chavez Monday. Maduro said they provided him with an update on “the government in a new stage” and other matters.
“He asked our friend Rafael Ramirez about [certain] aspects” of the government, Maduro said in a televised meeting with state governors, adding that Chavez had questioned other officials present.
“Our commander is climbing the hill, he’s advancing, and that fills us with great happiness,” he said.
He expressed gratitude to Chavez’s medical team but didn’t give details, only saying that Chavez “is in battle.”
The 58-year-old president, who was re-elected in October, has not made any public comments since his latest cancer surgery in Cuba on Dec. 11. He has been fighting an unspecified type of pelvic cancer, and his long silence has fed speculation about why he hasn’t addressed the country by phone on television, as he has during past treatments in Cuba. Government officials have said Chavez is being treated for “respiratory deficiency.”
Officials have indefinitely postponed Chavez’s inauguration despite complaints by the opposition that the move is unconstitutional.
Maduro made his comments at a gathering Tuesday of state governors in Caracas after returning from Cuba along with Ramirez, Attorney General Cilia Flores and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
The governors who attended included Chavez’s elder brother, Adan, other allied politicians and top opposition leader Henrique Capriles, and two other opposition governors.
Meanwhile, Brazil was urging Venezuela’s government to hold elections as quickly as possible if Chavez dies, senior officials told Reuters Monday, a major intervention by the regional powerhouse that could help ensure a smoother transition in Caracas.
Brazilian officials have expressed their wishes directly to Maduro, the officials said on condition of anonymity.
“We are explicitly saying that if Chavez dies, we would like to see elections as soon as possible,” one official said. “We think that’s the best way to ensure a peaceful democratic transition, which is Brazil’s main desire.”
Brazil’s stance on Venezuela is critical because it is by far Latin America’s biggest country and it enjoys growing economic and diplomatic clout in the region.
Its president, Dilma Rousseff, is a moderate leftist whose party has strongly supported Chavez over the past decade. Yet she is also perceived as neutral and democratic enough to be a credible broker in helping Venezuela chart a path forward if a political crisis erupts.
The Brazilians have also communicated their desire for quick elections via “emissaries” to Capriles.
By clearly supporting a democratic solution now, they hope to dissuade Capriles and others from inciting civil unrest in the event Chavez dies, the officials said.
“We’re working very hard to ensure there’s peace,” they added.