Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who remains hospitalized in Cuba more than three weeks after his latest cancer surgery, is experiencing respiratory deficiency caused by a “severe” lung infection, government officials said.
“Following the delicate Dec. 11 surgery, comandante Chavez has faced complications stemming from a severe lung infection,” Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said in a statement on Venezuelan television and radio Thursday night.
“This infection has led to respiratory deficiency that requires comandante Chavez to strictly comply with his medical treatment,” he added.
Villegas reiterated the government’s confidence in the medical team treating Chavez, saying they have “rigorously” responded to “each of the complications that has arisen.”
He also slammed the international media for capitalizing on the leftist president’s illness to launch a “psychological war” aimed at “destabilizing” Venezuela and disavowing the popular will expressed in the Oct. 7 presidential election.
The statement came a few hours after Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Chavez “is conscious of all the circumstances he is experiencing, which are difficult experiences.”
Maduro, who spoke hours after he and other top officials flew Thursday to Caracas from Havana, added that the president will return to the country “sooner than later.”
“He has a fighting spirit as always, with his usual strength, with his usual energy, with his confidence and certainty, and that is what he has told us to convey to his people,” the vice president said.
The only transition going on in Venezuela is the one toward socialism, Maduro - Chavez’s hand-picked successor - said earlier Thursday.
Amid intensifying speculation about Chavez’s condition, the U.S. State Department said Wednesday that it expects Caracas to pursue a transition consistent with the Venezuelan Constitution should the president become unable to perform his duties.
Chavez, who took office in 1999, was re-elected in October to another six-year term.
The 58-year-old president was first diagnosed with cancer after complaining of pain in his pelvic region during a June 2011 official visit to Cuba. Since then, the former paratrooper has undergone four surgical procedures and courses of chemotherapy and radiation.