Hugo Chavez: Venezuela leader suffers 'new complications'

Hugo Chavez (file image) President Chavez, 58 is due to be sworn in for his new term on 10 January

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has suffered "new complications" after a cancer operation in Cuba, his vice-president has said.

In a televised address from Cuba, Nicolas Maduro said Mr Chavez continued to be in a "delicate state".

Mr Chavez underwent his fourth cancer operation on 11 December in Cuba but suffered a respiratory infection.

The president - who has been in power since 1999 - is due to be sworn in on 10 January for another six-year term.

Mr Maduro did not give details about Mr Chavez's condition but said the latest complications were connected to the respiratory infection.

Analysis

Although Mr Maduro's speech was an obvious blow for Mr Chavez's supporters, the mood in Caracas remains calm - as if people were used to bad news about the president's health.

Many residents are away for the holidays, which increases the subdued mood on the streets. But for those who are still in the city, it is business as usual, with last-minute shopping on New Year's Eve.

Opposition leaders have not yet commented on Mr Maduro's speech. But over the weekend some lawmakers asked for a more detailed medical report.

Most people say Mr Chavez's future is in God's hands. Caracas officials have cancelled the New Year celebrations and asked people to keep the president in their prayers.

"We have been informed of new complications that arose as a consequence of the respiratory infection we already knew about," he said.

"The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the (Venezuelan) people about his current health condition.

"The state of health of President Chavez continues to be delicate."

He added that the treatment was "not without risk."

Mr Maduro, appearing solemn, spoke alongside Mr Chavez's eldest daughter, Rosa, his son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, and Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores.

The vice-president said he would remain in Havana "for the coming hours" but did not specify how long.

Secrecy over condition

Following Mr Maduro's announcement, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas appeared in a special programme on Venezuelan TV, calling on Venezuelans not to believe rumours about the president's health.

Chavez's career

  • Born in 1954
  • 1992: Leads a failed coup attempt against President Carlos Perez
  • 1999: Takes office after winning election
  • 2006: Wins another six-year term as president
  • 2011: Reveals he is being treated for cancer and has two operations in Cuba
  • 2012: Has two more operations
  • October 2012: Re-elected for another term as president

"Do not get carried away with things on Twitter, you cannot play with Commander Chavez's health, it is a matter that affects the lives of others. We must act very responsibly, particularly those of us who communicate through mass media," he said.

Late on Sunday, Mr Villegas said a government-organised New Year's Eve concert in central Caracas had been cancelled and he urged Venezuelans to pray for President Chavez.

The BBC's Sarah Rainsford in Havana says it is now three weeks since Hugo Chavez has been seen or heard from in person.

There continues to be huge secrecy surrounding his precise condition, she says.

Venezuelan constitution

  • Article 231: The president-elect shall take office on January 10 of the first year of their constitutional term, by taking an oath before the National Assembly. If for any reason, (they) cannot be sworn in before the National Assembly, they shall take the oath of office before the Supreme Court.
  • Article 233:(...) When an elected President becomes absolutely absent prior to inauguration, a new election...shall be held within 30 days.
  • Article 234: When the President is temporarily unable to serve, they shall be replaced by the Executive Vice-President for a period of up to 90 days, which may be extended by resolution of the National Assembly for an additional 90 days.

There are also many questions about what will happen on 10 January when Mr Chavez is due to be re-inaugurated, our correspondent adds.

National Assembly head Diosdado Cabello recently said that the swearing-in ceremony would be delayed in the case of Mr Chavez's absence.

However, opposition leaders say postponing the inauguration would be unconstitutional.

The constitution states that if there is an "absolute absence" of the president, elections must be held within 30 days.

Mr Chavez has said that, should his health fail, Venezuelans should vote for Mr Maduro in fresh elections.

Officials have never disclosed the type or severity of Mr Chavez's cancer, which was first diagnosed in June 2011.

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