Hugo Chavez Optimistic About Cancer Treatment, VP Maduro Says

Venezuela's vice president said the country's ailing leader Hugo Chávez's condtion has improved and that he is optimistic as he faces more treatment following cancer surgery.

Vice President Nicolás Maduro said after meeting with Chávez in Cuba that the ailing president is now "in the best moment we've seen him in these days of struggle" following his Dec. 11 cancer surgery. Chávez hasn't appeared or spoken publicly since before the operation, and his government has said he suffered complications including a severe respiratory infection but has recently been improving.

Maduro spoke on state television early Saturday after returning from Havana to Venezuela. He said he was leaving shortly for a summit meeting in Chile with a written message from Chávez.

"We're taking a message prepared by the president, and we're going to turn it over to heads of state who attend the CELAC summit. He makes fundamental proposals," Maduro said, adding that the message was in Chávez's handwriting.

Maduro said Chávez also sent a message for Venezuelans, including that he was "very optimistic" about his treatment. Maduro said Chávez is "hanging on to Christ and to life."

Maduro said Chávez also urged his supporters in Venezuela to be alert about opponents seeking to do harm to his socialist-oriented "revolution." However, Maduro didn't elaborate.

The vice president, whom Chávez designated as his successor before the operation, spoke on television surrounded by officials including Defense Minister Diego Molero and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas. Maduro said Villegas would give a more detailed update on Chávez's health later Saturday.

Chávez has undergone repeated surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer. He has undergone much of his treatment in Cuba.

The 58-year-old president won re-election in October, and lawmakers indefinitely put off his inauguration earlier this month in a decision that was condemned by opponents but upheld by the Supreme Court.

The vice president said that Chávez "has reviewed and evaluated reports on different areas and has made decisions."

He said Chávez evaluated the country's economic situation and budget and made decisions about gold reserves, funding for public housing projects and "social investments and economic development." Maduro didn't give more details but said the actions approved by the president were intended to "guarantee the country's economic growth, infrastructure, housing."

Maduro said that one of the documents signed by Chávez dealt with the selection of his socialist party's candidates for mayoral elections later this year. The vice president showed the signature in red ink on one of the documents.

Based on reporting by the Associated Press.

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