Mixed signals from officials in Venezuela sparked confusion on Monday over the condition of cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez, under treatment in a Cuban hospital for over a month.
Chavez is "fighting for his life," former vice president Elias Jaua said.
"The situation is
complex and delicate, but it is true that Hugo Chavez has fought and is fighting for his life," said Jaua, who was in office from January 2010 until October.
Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas, however, said that Chavez, hospitalized in Cuba following his fourth cancer operation last month, was doing better.
"Despite his delicate health state since his complex surgery on December 11, his general health has improved in recent days," Villegas said in a statement read on radio and television.
The president's previously disclosed severe pulmonary infection was "under control" but he still required treatment for "respiratory failure," he added.
Chavez, whose OPEC-member nation controls the world's largest proven oil reserves, has been out of sight since leaving for Cuba for the latest round of treatment in the 18 months since his condition was made public.
Uncertainty about his status has fueled speculation about his prospects for a full recovery -- and his political future.
The latest, conflicting reports followed a denial from Chavez's brother Adan on Saturday that the 58-year-old was in a coma. He insisted the Venezuelan leader was responding well to treatment and making progress on a daily basis.
The man Chavez has tipped to succeed him one day, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, met his ailing boss late Saturday.
During his trip, Maduro also met Cuban President Raul Castro along with Venezuelan Parliament President Diosdado Cabello, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.
A slew of leftist leaders and Venezuelan officials have also come to Chavez's bedside, and Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is planning a trip to Havana in late January, according to his spokesman.
During his 2003-2010 rule, Lula, himself a cancer survivor, built a strong relationship with the Chavez government in power since 1999.
Last Thursday, Venezuela's government was forced to postpone the president's inauguration when it became clear that Chavez could not attend. Authorities insist the Venezuelan constitution allows him to take the oath of office at a later time.
Although the opposition objected, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader's health, the Supreme Court rejected the bid, ruling that the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.
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