02:43 - Source: CNN
Hugo Chavez's health mystery

Story highlights

NEW: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in stable condition, information minister says

Chavez may not return by January 10 for his inauguration, he says

Venezuela's president faces a difficult recovery from cancer surgery, the vice president says

Chavez has said he wants the vice president to take over in case he cannot run country

CNN —  

Two top Venezuelan officials struck a somber tone Wednesday when discussing President Hugo Chavez’s cancer surgery.

The Venezuelan leader faces a “complex and difficult” recovery, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on national television.

In an emotional address, he asked Venezuelans to remain united and pray for Chavez, who had surgery Tuesday in Cuba.

Later, the information minister said Venezuelans “should be prepared to understand” if Chavez doesn’t return to Venezuela before January 10, when he is scheduled to be inaugurated for a new term as president.

“It would be irresponsible to hide the delicacy of the current moment and the coming days,” he wrote in a post on the information ministry’s website.

The title of his post – “Chavez Will Live and Overcome” – was similar to many official announcements since Chavez’s illness was announced last year. But the message’s tone was markedly different from previous ones.

“The president is a human being,” Villegas said. “He underwent a difficult, complex, delicate operation. And now he is in post-operation, which is also difficult, complex and delicate.”

Late Wednesday, the information minister read a statement on Venezuelan state television, saying that Chavez was in stable condition.

“We are confident in the physical and spiritual strength of Comandante Hugo Chavez and in the medical treatment,” he said.

Chavez has undergone several surgeries and radiation treatment in Cuba in the past year and a half.

Maduro’s address Wednesday also carried a tone different from that of the more upbeat assessment state media offered immediately after the surgery. In that dispatch, state-run Venezuelan Television called the operation a success.

Doctors in Havana, in a six-hour surgery, removed a lesion that had appeared in the same place as previous lesions, Maduro said. Afterward, Chavez was taken to his room to begin his recovery, which will last several days, the vice president said.

“There were complex moments but, fortunately, this giant – our commander – again shows us his strength,” Maduro said. Chavez was surrounded by relatives and friends, he added.

The Venezuelan government has released few details about Chavez’s illness, fueling widespread speculation about his health and political future.

Health rumors dogged Chavez on the campaign trail this year but didn’t stop him from winning re-election in October.

Over the weekend, as he prepared for the latest operation, Chavez said he wanted Maduro to replace him if “something were to happen that would incapacitate me.”

CNN’s Catherine E. Shoichet and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.