CARACAS, Venezuela – Hugo Chavez has suffered "new complications" following his cancer surgery in Cuba, his vice president said Sunday, describing the Venezuelan leader's condition as delicate.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro spoke with a solemn expression in a televised address from Havana, saying he had spoken with Chavez and that the president sent greetings to his homeland. Maduro did not give details about the complications, which he said came amid a respiratory infection.
"Several minutes ago we were with President Chavez. We greeted each other and he himself referred to these complications," Maduro said, reading from a prepared statement. Maduro was seated alongside Chavez's eldest daughter, Rosa, and son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores.
The vice president's comments suggest an increasingly difficult fight for the ailing president. The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11, and government officials have said he might not return in time for his scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration for a new six-year term.
"The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health condition," Maduro said. "President Chavez's state of health continues to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a process not without risks."
Maduro held up a copy of a newspaper confirming that his message was recorded on Sunday.
"Thanks to his physical and spiritual strength, Comandante Chavez is facing this difficult situation," Maduro said.
Maduro said he had met various times with Chavez's medical team and relatives. He said he would remain in Havana "for the coming hours" but didn't specify how long.
Maduro, who arrived in Havana on Saturday for a sudden and unexpected trip, is the highest ranking Venezuelan official to visit Chavez since the surgery.
Before Chavez left for Cuba, he acknowledged risks in the operation and designated Maduro as his successor, telling supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential election was necessary.
Chavez said his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011.
Medical experts say that it's common for patients who have undergone major surgeries to suffer respiratory infections and that how a patient fares can vary widely from a quick recovery in a couple of days to a fight for life on a respirator.
Maduro's latest update differed markedly from last Monday, when he had said he received a phone call from the president and that Chavez was up and walking.
The vice president spoke on Sunday below a picture of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of Chavez's leftist Bolivarian Revolution movement.
Maduro expressed faith that Chavez's "immense will to live and the care of the best medical specialists will help our president successfully fight this new battle." He concluded his message saying: "Long live Chavez."
Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap