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Venezuela's Chavez Takes Turn For The Worse

A "proof of life" photo shows Chavez with his daughters, released Feb. 15 by Miraflores Presidential Press Office.
A "proof of life" photo shows Chavez with his daughters, released Feb. 15 by Miraflores Presidential Press Office.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been battling cancer for months, is in a "very delicate" condition, with breathing difficulties and a severe respiratory infection, a government statement says.

The statement, read out Monday by Minister of Communications Ernesto Villegas, spells out the 58-year-old socialist leader's decline since his December surgery in Cuba for an unspecified cancer in the pelvic area:

"From today, there has been deterioration in his respiratory performance, related to the immunodeficiency of his current clinical condition. At present he is suffering from a new and serious respiratory infection.

"The president has been receiving intense chemotherapy, as well as other complementary treatments, with the dosage according to the development of his clinical state.

"His general state of health continues to be very delicate.

"The president is taking refuge in Christ and in life, conscious of the difficulties that he is facing and strictly following the program designed by his medical team."

Chavez has been undergoing "chemotherapy of strong impact," according to Villegas.

NPR's Juan Forero says the president has been in a Caracas military hospital for two weeks, where he has seen only a small group of advisers. Although several "proof of life" photos have been released in recent weeks, the charismatic leader has not been seen or heard publicly since the Dec. 11 surgery, his fourth for the cancer that was diagnosed in June 2011.

Chavez is being treated in Carlos Arvelo military hospital, where The Guardian newspaper says "a huge, garish poster of the former paratrooper, in robust health, has been fixed to one side of the building."

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Thursday that Chavez was "battling for his health and his life" and had "[given] his life to those that don't have anything."

According to The Guardian:

"Maduro now appears to be running the country, but he firmly rejects the title 'acting president' and insists that Chavez remains well enough to give instructions. Last week it was announced that the president participated — presumably from his hospital bed — in a five-hour series of meetings, covering a range of issues from national security to the economy.

"At a late-night press conference afterward, Maduro conceded that Chavez is unable to speak because of a tracheal tube to assist his breathing, but has been able to contribute to the meetings via what the vice president described as 'a variety of means of writing.' Venezuelan diplomats have meanwhile delivered several letters, purportedly from the leftist leader, including one to Cuba's Raul Castro, congratulating him on his re-election as president."

In Monday's statement, Villegas also took the opportunity to lash out at "the corrupt Venezuelan right" for what he called a psychological war seeking "scenarios of violence as a pretext for foreign intervention."

While Maduro is Chavez's hand-picked successor, upon the president's death, the opposition would contest the government's candidate in a snap election that it argues should have been called after Chavez was unable to be sworn in Jan. 10 as the constitution stipulates, according to The Associated Press.

Over the weekend, anti-Chavez demonstrators poured onto the streets of Caracas to protest the secrecy that has surrounded the ailing president, saying he is no longer fit to rule.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit

Scott Neuman is a reporter and editor, working mainly on breaking news for NPR's digital and radio platforms.
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