Venezuela: Chavez is responding to treatment

Jan 14, 2013, 6:34 AM EST
A man holding a framed image of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez.
(AP Photo/Alex Castro)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Thousands of supporters of Venezuela's cancer-stricken president held rallies across the nation Sunday, hours before the government announced that Hugo Chavez is responding favorably to treatment for a respiratory infection.

The rallies came amid complaints by the opposition that it was unconstitutional for the government to indefinitely postpone the socialist leader's inauguration, which had been set for Thursday. The opposition also has been demanding the government provide more information about Chavez's medical condition.

Venezuelan authorities have said Chavez is suffering from a severe respiratory infection that he contracted after undergoing a fourth round of surgery on Dec. 11 in Cuba for a cancer in the pelvic area first diagnosed on June 8, 2011.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Sunday night that Chavez is conscious and responding to treatment for the respiratory infection at a Cuban hospital, although he gave no specifics of Chavez's treatment or condition.

"The respiratory infection is under control," but Chavez "still requires specific measures for a solution to respiratory insufficiency," he said, reading a statement on state television.

"The president is conscious, communicating with his family, his political team and the medical team treating him," Villegas said.

Chavez, who was re-elected Oct. 7, hasn't spoken publicly or been seen since the operation, leading to anxiety among Venezuelans about the country. If he is unable to take office, Venezuela's constitution says new elections must be called within 30 days.

On Saturday, Villegas said that Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who has been designed by Chavez as his successor, had met with Venezuela's leader since flying to Cuba on Friday.

"Maduro reports that he gave the president a report about the demonstrations of the people's support," Villegas said in a message posted on the Twitter social networking site.

In Caracas on Sunday, Elias Jaua, a close Chavez confidant and former vice president, urged a crowd of government supporters to "be active in defense of the constitution, in defense of Commander Hugo Chavez's popular mandate."

Opposition leaders deny they are trying to stir up violence, insisting they have been careful not to incite unrest even as they oppose the postponement of Chavez's inauguration and say they plan to challenge the move before the Costa Rica-based Inter-American Court of Human Rights.

Jaua nevertheless told state television that some right-wing activists are seeking violent upheaval.

"We know that despite the position that many Venezuelans may have against the revolutionary project, nobody wants to see a fragmented Venezuela, a Venezuela involved in a civil war, that's only what Venezuela's sick right-wingers want," Jaua said.

During a huge pro-Chavez rally last week, Maduro warned that authorities would take action against elected opposition leaders who question the government's legitimacy.

"If you don't recognize the legitimate government of President Chavez, we are evaluating legally very forceful actions," Maduro told tens of thousands of Chavez supporters who filled the streets of downtown Caracas.

Maduro and other members of Venezuela's ruling inner circle met Saturday evening in Havana with Cuban leader Raul Castro during a visit to check on the Venezuelan president, the official Cuban newspaper Juventud Rebelde said.

Accompanying Maduro were Diosdado Cabello, president of Venezuela's National Assembly, as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores and Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez.

Juventud Rebelde published a photograph of a smiling Castro with Cabello and Ramirez.

In another picture, Castro is seen bidding farewell on Saturday to Presidents Cristina Fernandez of Argentina and Ollanta Humala of Peru, both of whom went to Cuba to offer support for Chavez. If either met with Chavez, it was not reported.

Fernandez was also shown in several photographs meeting with Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president and revolutionary icon who has been a father figure for Chavez.

The newspaper's reports did not mention Chavez.

The opposition contends the government is hamstrung because of Chavez's long absence, alleging that infighting among members of the ruling party has caused a worsening of pressing domestic problems such as rampant violent crime, double-digit inflation, deteriorating infrastructure and power outages.

A power failure left several districts of Caracas without electricity Sunday. Douglas Alvarez of the state-run power company said officials were investigating the cause of the blackout. Electricity returned to the affected areas by midday, he said.


Associated Press writer Anne-Marie Garcia in Havana contributed to this report.


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