Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is in an induced coma being kept alive by life support following complications during cancer surgery, it was claimed today.
Sources at the hospital in Cuba where he is being treated told a Spanish newspaper he was showing ‘very weak’ vital signs, adding that doctors could decide to switch off the machines ‘at any moment’.
With rumours swirling that Chavez had taken a turn for the worse, Venezuela’s Vice President Nicolas Maduro said the ailing president’s condition remains ‘delicate’ three weeks after his cancer surgery.
He did not provide further information about the president’s condition and told Venezuelan’s to ignore speculation about his health.
Many Venezuelan’s have been left frustrated over the lack of information over the president’s condition.
Chavez’s political opponents have complained that the government hasn’t told the country nearly enough and have demanded it provide the country with a full medical report.
Even some of his supporters say they wished they knew more.
In a pre-recorded interview in Havana, which was broadcast Tuesday night by the Caracas-based television network Telesur, Maduro said: ‘He’s totally conscious of the complexity of his post-operative state and he expressly asked us … to keep the nation informed always, always with the truth, as hard as it may be in certain circumstances.’
Both supporters and opponents of Chavez have been on edge in the past week amid shifting signals from the government about the president’s health.
Chavez has not been seen or heard from since the December 11 operation, and officials have reported a series of ups and downs in his recovery – the most recent, on Sunday, announcing that he faced new complications from a respiratory infection.
Maduro did not provide any new details about Chavez’s complications during Tuesday’s interview. But he joined other Chavez allies in urging Venezuelans to ignore gossip, saying rumors were being spread due to ‘the hatred of the enemies of Venezuela.’
Maduro said Chavez faces ‘a complex and delicate situation’. But Maduro also said that when he talked with the president and looked at his face, he seemed to have ‘the same strength as always.’
‘All the time we’ve been hoping for his positive evolution. Sometimes he has had light improvements, sometimes stationary situations,’ he said.
SUCCESSOR READY TO TAKE OVER
Following news that Hugo Chavez’s cancer had returned in December, the president officially named Vice President Nicolas Maduro as his successor.
Maduro has been an active member of the country’s government since Chavez assumed power in 1998.
The 50-year-old Maduro has been close friends with Chavez since the 1980s.
He got into politics as a teenager, joining the Socialist League, which sent him to Cuba for training in union organising.
He then became a union organiser in the Caracas Metro system, for which he served as a bus driver.
Maduro worked as a coordinator during Chavez’s first presidential election and later became a congressman and president of the assembly until 2006.
As vice president, Maduro has been key in designing the country’s radical anti-imperialist policy. He has worked to grow Venezuela’s relationship with Iran, Russia and China.
Maduro’s remarks about the president came at the end of an interview in which he praised Venezuelan government programs at length, recalled the history of the Cuban revolution and touched on what he called the long-term strength of Chavez’s socialist Bolivarian Revolution movement.
He mentioned that former Cuban President Fidel Castro had been in the hospital, and praised Cuba’s government effusively. ‘Today we’re together on a single path,’ Maduro said.
Critics in Venezuela sounded off on Twitter while the interview was aired, some saying Maduro sounded like a mouthpiece for the Cuban government. In their messages, many Chavez opponents criticized Maduro for the dearth of information he provided, accusing him of withholding key details about Chavez’s condition.
‘We’re distressed by El Comandante’s health,’ said Francisca Fuentes, who was walking through a downtown square with her grandchildren Tuesday. ‘I think they aren’t telling us the whole truth. It’s time for them to speak clearly. It’s like when you have a sick relative and the doctor lies to you every once in a while.’
Chavez has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011.
He has declined to reveal the precise location of the tumors that have been surgically removed.
The president announced on December 8, two months after winning re-election, that his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
‘There’s nothing we can do except wait for the government to deign to say how he is really,’ said Daniel Jimenez, an opposition supporter who was in a square in an affluent Caracas neighborhood.
Jimenez and many other Venezuelans say it seems increasingly unlikely that Chavez can be sworn in as scheduled January 10 for his new term. If he dies or is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan Constitution says a new election should be held within 30 days.
Before his operation, Chavez acknowledged he faced risks and designated Maduro as his successor, telling supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential election was necessary.
Maduro didn’t discuss the upcoming inauguration plans, saying only that he is hopeful Chavez will improve.
The vice president said that Chavez ‘has faced an illness with courage and dignity, and he’s there fighting, fighting.’
‘Someone asked me yesterday by text message: How is the president? And I said, `With giant strength,”‘ Maduro said. He recalled taking Chavez by the hand: “He squeezed me with gigantic strength as we talked.”