Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is “clinging to life” after his condition worsened as he struggles to recover from cancer surgery, the country’s government has said.
A sombre medical update revealed the 58-year-old – who has not been seen in public since the operation in Cuba three months ago – is suffering from a “severe” new respiratory infection.
Information minister Ernesto Villegas said: “Today there is a worsening of his respiratory function, related to his depressed immune system. There is now a new, severe infection.”
The ailing socialist leader made a surprise pre-dawn homecoming two weeks ago with none of the fanfare and celebration that had accompanied previous returns from treatment in Havana.
The government said he is now fighting for his life at a military hospital in the capital Caracas.
Mr Villegas said: “The president has been receiving high-impact chemotherapy, along with other complementary treatments … his general condition continues to be very delicate.
“The commander-president remains clinging to Christ and to life, conscious of the difficulties that he is facing, and complying strictly with the programme designed by his medical team.”
Mr Chavez suffered multiple complications after his surgery on December 11 – his fourth since the disease was detected in mid-2011.
The government said he had trouble speaking because he was breathing through a tracheal tube, but that he was giving orders to ministers by writing them down.
He has undergone several gruelling rounds of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which at times left him bald and bloated. He twice wrongly declared himself cured.
The only sight of the former soldier since his latest operation were four photos published by the government while he was still in Havana, showing him lying in a hospital bed.
Following an emotional Mass at the military hospital on Friday, vice president Nicolas Maduro – Mr Chavez’s preferred successor if he is unable to carry on as president – said the president had decided for himself that he would return to Venezuela from Cuba.
Mr Chavez’s death would be felt across Latin America. He has been the most vocal critic of Washington in the region and has funded large aid programmes for leftist governments from Bolivia to Cuba.