Venezuela’s vice president has said that Hugo Chavez is in good spirits as he undergoes chemotherapy in Caracas. Should Chavez prove too sick to return to power, the country would need to hold an election within 30 days.
Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said late on Friday that President Hugo Chavez had begun chemotherapy following his fourth round of cancer surgery in December, and decided to continue the treatment when he returned home from Cuba on February 18.
"He has strength that is superior to the treatments that he is receiving and he is in good spirits, battling, receiving his treatments," Maduro told reporters after a mass for Chavez in a new chapel on the hospital grounds named "hope." Maduro rejected claims from some news outlets that the president was at death's door.
Chavez's three-month absence from public life had fueled rumors about his condition, and only a set of photos of the president reading a Cuban newspaper with his daughters in that span had been released before announced his return to Venezuela on Twitter nearly two weeks ago. Doctors diagnosed him with cancer in the pelvic region in June 2011.
Maduro said that Chavez's condition had "worsened" at the end of the year owing to a respiratory infection and required a tracheal tube to assist breathing. After a "general improvement" of his vital organs in January, Cuban doctors began "complementary treatments," or chemotherapy, the vice president said.
When Chavez decided to return to Venezuela two weeks ago, Maduro said, the president told his aides: "I am going to enter a new phase with the complementary treatments, more intense and very difficult, and I want to be in Caracas, so do everything that must be done to return to Caracas in safe conditions."
Officials and Chavez's daughter Maria Gabriela attended a Mass in the chapel late Friday after spending the day rebuffing rumors that Chavez may be dead or on his deathbed. Maduro singled out Spain's conservative ABC newspaper and the Colombian radio station Caracol for their roles in the rumors, calling them "fascist" organizations and part of a "campaign against the stability of Venezuela, lying about Chavez."
ABC had reported on Friday that Chavez's cancer had spread and he had gone to his island retreat on La Orchilada to spend his final moments with his family. Radio Caracol broadcast a claim from Guillermo Cochez, Panama's former ambassador to the Organization of American States, who said that Chavez was taken off life support days ago after being declared brain dead.
mkg/msh (AFP, Reuters, AP)