Chavez 'stable' ahead of new term
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is in a "stable situation" in a Cuban hospital receiving treatment due to a severe respiratory infection, his government said.
Information minister Ernesto Villegas provided the update, saying the government is in "permanent contact" with Mr Chavez's medical team and relatives who are with him in Havana where he underwent surgery for cancer.
His report came as other government officials reiterated their stance that the president need not be sworn in for a new term as scheduled this Thursday and could instead have his inauguration at a later date.
"The president is in a stable situation in relation with that described in the most recent report," Mr Villegas said, reading a statement on television. "His treatment is being applied constantly and rigorously, and the patient is assimilating it."
Mr Villegas did not give details about the treatment, which the government says is for a "respiratory deficiency". Independent medical experts say that description suggests Mr Chavez may be breathing with the aid of a ventilator, but also say that is not necessarily the case based on the vague account given.
Leaders of the Catholic Church criticised the government for failing to provide more details about Mr Chavez's condition nearly a month after his operation. Bishop Diego Padron, president of the Venezuelan Bishops Conference, said: "The government has not told the nation all of the truth."
Catholic leaders also said that conflicting stances by the government and opposition ahead of Mr Chavez's scheduled swearing-in make for a potentially dangerous and violent situation.
Mr Chavez describes himself as Christian but has clashed repeatedly with some Catholic leaders, who have accused the president in recent years of becoming increasingly authoritarian. The leftist president has not spoken publicly since before the December 11 surgery.
The Venezuelan Constitution says the presidential oath should be taken before politicians in the National Assembly on January 10, this Thursday. It says the president may also take the oath before the Supreme Court if he is unable to be sworn in before the assembly.
Some opposition leaders have argued that Mr Chavez's allies would violate the constitution if they try to put off the inauguration. Vice president Nicolas Maduro has called the swearing-in a "formality" and said the opposition is erroneously interpreting the constitution.