Cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is still suffering respiratory problems after surgery in Cuba two months ago, the government said on Thursday in a somber first communique since his homecoming earlier in the week.
Struggling to talk and breathing through a tracheal tube, the 58-year-old socialist leader is being treated at a Caracas military hospital after returning unseen on Monday.
Long accustomed to drama and speculation over Chavez’s health since cancer was first detected in June 2011, Venezuelans are now debating if he can recover and return to active rule, or may resign and try to ensure his vice president wins a vote.
Some think he may have simply come home to die.
“The breathing insufficiency that emerged post-operation persists and the tendency has not been favorable, so it is still being treated,” read the communique.
However, the short statement, read by Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas, said that treatment for Chavez’s “base illness” — presumably the cancer first diagnosed in his pelvic area — continued without “significant adverse effects for now.”
Little detailed medical information has been made public on Chavez’s condition, meaning the government’s occasional short statements are pored over by Venezuelans for clues about the future for him and the nation he has dominated since 1999.
Chavez is believed to be seeing only close family at the hospital and a few senior officials, including Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
“The patient remains in communication with relatives and the government political group in close collaboration with the medical team,” the statement added. “The president holds firm to Christ, with absolute will to live and maximum discipline in the treatment of his health.”
A source at the military hospital said there was tight security surrounding Chavez’s ninth-floor suite and that the only doctors treating the president there were Cubans.
Staircases were sealed off with bars, the source said, and the area was covered by armed patrols and surveillance cameras.