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Chavez making progress, says foreign minister

A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attends a rally in Caracas on January 23, 2013
A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez attends a rally in Caracas on January 23, 2013. Chavez is making progress in his recovery from cancer surgery, but faces a tough battle ahead, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is making progress in his recovery from cancer surgery, but faces a tough battle ahead, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said.

"The president is in the process of recovering. However, the upcoming battle is more complex," Jaua said upon his return from Cuba, where he was visiting the ailing 58-year-old Chavez.

The firebrand leftist leader has not been seen for more than a month since undergoing his latest round of cancer surgery in Havana. Government officials have repeatedly said in recent days that his condition is improving.

Jaua said he had seen Chavez "several times" this week, including once earlier Thursday. Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez and Chavez's brother Adan were also in Havana.

"We discussed a series of political and economic issues, as well as the upcoming mayoral elections," Jaua told reporters by telephone during a press conference given by Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas.

Villegas said the government was pleased with Chavez's progress, and confirmed the president was undergoing physical therapy, adding it was still too soon to talk about when the absent leader might return home.

But he insisted Chavez was "making decisions," noting: "He is active... I have received instructions on certain tasks that need doing."

Jaua said the government hoped Chavez could be back home in "weeks" but also said everyone wanted the president to take his time to recover.

Chavez, who had surgery on December 11, is a former paratrooper who first came to power in the oil-rich South American country in 1999 and won another six-year term in October, despite questions about his health.

Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, Chavez has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba last month.

He suffered complications following his latest surgery, including a severe lung infection.

Chavez was too sick to attend his January 10 inauguration, prompting the government to delay the swearing-in indefinitely under an interpretation of the constitution that was heavily criticized by the opposition.

The Chavez-controlled National Assembly and Supreme Court both approved the arrangement, which keeps his administration in place under Maduro until the president can take the oath of office for his fourth term.

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