Venezuelan President Hugo Chávezs health has taken a turn for the worse as he battles a new and severe lung infection in the wake of a trouble-plagued cancer surgery, the government said Monday.
In a televised announcement, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Chávezs respiratory problems had grown more severe since the chemotherapy he is receiving in Caracas has left his immune system compromised.
The presidents condition continues to be very delicate, Villegas read from a prepared statement. The commander president is holding onto Christ and life, conscious of the difficulties he is facing and following the strict program created by his medical team.
Villegas said the treatment includes strong chemotherapy and complementary treatments that are being adjusted according to the evolution of his clinical condition.
Chávez, 58, has been battling an undisclosed form of cancer since at least June, 2011. He has not been seen in public for almost three months since he traveled to Cuba for additional surgery.
For the past two weeks, Chávez has been undergoing treatment at Caracas Military Hospital, where he has also been kept out of view, even though the government says he is fully in charge and leading cabinet meetings even though a tracheal tube precludes him from speaking.
The news comes amid growing protests from those demanding more information about Chávezs health. Mondays statement is likely to fuel persistent rumors that hes on life support, unconscious, or worse.
Villegas said the rumors swirling on social networking sites and the Internet were part of a psychological warfare campaign directed from abroad and designed to destabilize the country and spark a foreign intervention.
An oncologist not involved in Chávezs treatment, which has been conducted in secrecy, told The Associated Press that he viewed Villegas statement as recognition that Chavezs condition is truly precarious. He called into question the veracity of Villegass statement that Chávez had been under chemotherapy, saying patients in such a delicate state simply are not put on chemotherapy.
Opposition lawmaker Julio Borges condemned Villegas statement via Twitter as an inappropriate use of a medical bulletin for political reasons: I lament such a poverty of humanity.
During the weekend, both pro-government and opposition protestors took to the streets as they tussled over Chávezs health.
After winning an additional six-year term in October, Chávez traveled to Cuba Dec. 10 to undergo an additional round of surgery. Unlike past interventions, Chávez has not bounced back from this one, and the administration has admitted that he suffered hemorrhaging and a severe respiratory infection that required a tracheotomy to assist his breathing.
Amid growing rumors that he was in a coma or, perhaps, even dead, the government released four snapshots Feb. 15 of a bloated but smiling Chávez in a hospital bed flanked by his two daughters. Three days later, he was whisked back into the country unannounced and under the cover of night. At the time, officials suggested the president was on the mend and that his return was a sign of improvement.
The last time Chávez communicated with Venezuelans directly was when he purportedly sent four Twitter messages as he returned from his latest trip to Cuba. In his final Twitter message, Chávez said he had faith in Christ and his medical team.
We will live and we will win, he wrote.
Information from The Associated Press was used.