Venezuela's Chavez beats respiratory infection, minister says

Hugo Chavez's recent public absence has given rise to questions from political opponents about who is running the country.

Story highlights

  • "(He) is in the best moment," Venezuelan vice president says about Chavez
  • Chavez, 58, has not been seen in public for weeks, not since his last cancer surgery
  • He has overcome an infection, but still has some breathing problems, says a minister

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has overcome a respiratory infection he contracted after undergoing cancer surgery in Cuba last month, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas told reporters Saturday.

But the president still has some breathing problems and his treatment continues, Villegas said.

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"The general evolution of the patient is favorable," said Villegas, who spoke in Santiago, Chile, where he is attending a meeting of European and Latin American leaders.

"The severe respiratory infection has been overcome, although there remains a certain degree of respiratory inefficiency, which is being treated," he said.

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Villegas said that doctors have also started a "systematic medical treatment for the underlying illness, as a complement to the surgery on December 11."

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Chavez, 58, has not made a public appearance since undergoing a fourth cancer surgery in Havana six weeks ago.

The government has not released any photographs of the ailing leader, and Chavez hasn't spoken on state television.

The long absence from the airwaves is not typical of the loquacious leader. And his lengthy stay in Cuba has sparked growing concerns from political opponents about who is running Venezuela while he's gone.

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Villegas stressed that Chavez is still very much in charge of the country, meeting with leaders and making key decisions.

His statement on the president's heath was relatively upbeat. It followed similar comments made earlier in the day by Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who recently returned from visiting Chavez in Cuba.

"(He) is in the best moment that we've seen him in all these days of struggle," Maduro said.

The vice president told reporters that Chavez asked him to convey to the Venezuelan people that he was "optimistic ... holding on to Christ and to life."

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