CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — 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. The vice president was seated alongside Chavez's eldest daughter, Rosa, and son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores.
Maduro'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 see Chavez since the surgery in Cuba, where the president's mentor Fidel Castro has reportedly made regular visits to check on him.
Before flying to Cuba, Maduro said that Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime.
"The situation does not look good. The fact that Maduro himself would go to Cuba, leaving Hector Navarro in charge only seems understandable if Chavez's health is precarious," said David Smilde, a University of Georgia sociologist and analyst for the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.
Smilde said that Maduro probably made the trip "to be able to talk to Chavez himself and perhaps to talk to the Castros and other Cuban advisers about how to navigate the possibility of Chavez not being able to be sworn in on Jan. 10."