A new and severe respiratory infection has hit cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his breathing has deteriorated.
Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas read a brief statement on national television late yesterday saying Mr Chavez’s “worsening respiratory function” was related to a weakening of his immune system.
He said the socialist leader had “a new and severe infection”. The state news agency identified it as a respiratory infection.
Mr Villegas said Mr Chavez had been undergoing “chemotherapy of strong impact, among other treatments”.
He said Mr Chavez’s condition continues to be very delicate and that he was “standing by Christ and life conscious of the difficulties he faces”.
In the statement, Mr Villegas lashed out at “the corrupt Venezuelan right” for what he called a psychological war seeking “scenarios of violence” to encourage “foreign intervention in Venezuela”.
Upon Mr Chavez’s death, the opposition would fight the government’s candidate in a snap election, and the campaigning has already begun although undeclared.
Mr Chavez has governed Venezuela, gradually placing all state institutions under his personal control, for more than 14 years.
Opposition politician Julio Borges condemned Villegas’ statement via Twitter as an inappropriate use of a medical bulletin for political reasons.
There has been speculation that Mr Chavez’s cancer has spread to his lungs and cannot be halted.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who Mr Chavez has said should succeed him as president, first announced last week that the president had begun receiving chemotherapy around the end of January.
Doctors have said that such therapy was not necessarily to try to beat Mr Chavez’s cancer into remission but could have been palliative, to extend his life and ease his suffering.
The 58-year-old was flown home to Venezuela on February 18, more than two months after undergoing his fourth surgery in Cuba for an unspecified cancer in the pelvic region.
He suffered a severe respiratory infection in Cuba in the last days of 2012 that nearly killed him, Mr Maduro said last week.
A tracheal tube was inserted then and government officials have said his breathing remained laboured.
The cancer was first diagnosed in June 2011, and Chavez has undergone radiation treatment and chemotherapy after operations.
He has not been seen or heard of – other than proof-of-life photos released on February 15 – since he flew to Cuba for his last surgery, which was performed on December 11.