Hugo Chavez suffers new complications in cancer fight

Hugo Chavez

"Thanks to his physical and spiritual strength, Comandante Chavez is facing this difficult situation,'' Maduro said.

Maduro said he had met various times with Chavez's medical team and relatives. He said he would remain in Havana ``for the coming hours'' but didn't specify how long.

Maduro, who arrived in Havana on Saturday for the sudden and unexpected trip, is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to see Chavez since the surgery in Cuba, where the president's mentor Fidel Castro has reportedly made regular visits to check on him.

Before flying to Cuba, Maduro said that Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime.

"The situation does not look good. The fact that Maduro himself would go to Cuba, leaving Hector Navarro in charge only seems understandable if Chavez's health is precarious,'' said David Smilde, a University of Georgia sociologist and analyst for the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.

Smilde said that Maduro probably made the trip "to be able to talk to Chavez himself and perhaps to talk to the Castros and other Cuban advisers about how to navigate the possibility of Chavez not being able to be sworn in on Jan. 10.''

"Mentioning twice in his nationally televised speech that Chavez has suffered new complications only reinforces the appearance that the situation is serious,'' Smilde said.

Medical experts say that it's common for patients who have undergone major surgeries to suffer respiratory infections and that how a patient fares can vary widely from a quick recovery in a couple of days to a fight for life on a respirator.

Maduro's latest update differed markedly from a week ago, when he had said he received a phone call from the president and that Chavez was up and walking.

The vice president spoke on Sunday below a picture of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of Chavez's leftist Bolivarian Revolution movement.

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