Published On: Tue, Mar 5th, 2013

Chavez Health Worsens With Second Lung Infection, Venezuela Says

Ernesto VillegasCARACAS – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s breathing problems have worsened and his health is in a “very delicate” state as he struggles with chemotherapy treatment, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said.

Chavez has a “severe” respiratory infection, his second this year, and is receiving chemotherapy that has had a “strong impact” on the 58-year-old president, Villegas said in a national address yesterday.

“There has been a worsening in his respiratory infection in relation to the state of his immunosuppression,” Villegas said.

The infection is the latest setback for Chavez, who has undergone four cancer-related surgeries in Cuba since June 2011. Aside from photos released last month and messages posted to Chavez’s Twitter account on his return to Caracas Feb. 18, the former paratrooper hasn’t been seen in public since traveling to Havana for surgery Dec. 10.

“The respiratory infection can severely compromise his ability to tolerate chemotherapy,” said Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University in Washington who has not treated Chavez. “He may survive two infections - but he will likely be quite weakened even upon recovery.”

Ministerial Appointments

With Chavez convalescing, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, 50, has announced ministerial appointments, economic decisions and presented the annual state of the union report to the National Assembly. Just before flying to Cuba for his fourth surgery in December, Chavez called on Venezuelans to unite behind Maduro as his successor if he couldn’t fulfill his term.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, if Chavez dies or steps down an election must be held within 30 days. The leader last year proclaimed himself healthy and ran a successful re-election campaign 14 years after first winning the presidency.

Villegas first announced Jan. 3 that Chavez was suffering from a respiratory infection, but subsequently said the infection was brought under control.

No images of Chavez’s surprise return to Caracas two weeks ago were broadcast and the government said he isn’t able to speak.

“Chavez is holding fast to life and his faith in Christ and is aware of the difficulties he faces,” Villegas said.

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