SANTIAGO, Chile – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has defeated a respiratory infection and has begun additional medical treatment in Cuba after struggling with complications following cancer surgery more than six weeks ago, a government spokesman said Saturday.
Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that it remains unclear how soon Chavez could return home, and did not specify the kind of treatment he is receiving.
"Vice President (Nicolas) Maduro estimates that the time it could take President Chavez to return is within weeks. But we haven't wanted to fix an exact timeframe for the president's recuperation," Villegas told reporters on the sidelines of a 60-nation summit in Chile.
He read a statement that went beyond past government reports in providing additional information about Chavez's Dec. 11 surgery, but didn't describe the newest treatment. While refusing to release many details about the president's cancer, authorities in the past have reported on specific treatments, including radiation and chemotherapy.
"Forty-five days after carrying out a complex surgical intervention for the removal of a malignant lesion in the pelvis, with severe, acute complications, the patient's general evolution is favorable," Villegas said, reading the statement.
"At this time, the serious respiratory infection has been overcome, although a certain degree of respiratory deficiency persists and is being duly treated," Villegas said.
After that improvement, Villegas said, "systemic medical treatment for the fundamental illness began to be applied as a complement to the surgery."
Villegas also criticized Spain's leading newspaper El Pais, which was forced to reprint its Thursday edition after discovering that its front-page exclusive photograph supposedly showing an ailing Chavez being treated in Cuba was a fake.
The newspaper apologized to its readers for the mistake and said it was investigating how the photo made its way into the paper.
"But who has apologized to Chavez or his family?" Villegas said.
"In Venezuela we've seen a phenomenon where even the atheists are praying for Chavez," he said. "In Uruguay, President Mujica, who's not a believer, organized a Mass and prayed for Chavez."
Chavez hasn't appeared or spoken publicly since before the operation.
Maduro said early Saturday after meeting with Chavez in Cuba that the ailing president is now "in the best moment we've seen him in these days of struggle" following the surgery.
Maduro spoke on state television after returning from Havana to Venezuela, and before he traveled to Chile for the summit.
"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 Chavez's handwriting.
Maduro said Chavez also sent a message for Venezuelans, including that he was "very optimistic" about his treatment. Maduro said Chavez is "hanging on to Christ and to life."
Chavez 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 Chavez "has reviewed and evaluated reports on different areas and has made decisions."
He said Chavez 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 Chavez 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.