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Venezuela's Chavez still suffering breathing problems

A vendor sells pictures of Hugo Chavez in Caracas on February 18, 2013
A vendor sells pictures of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in Caracas on February 18, 2013. Chavez is still suffering from respiratory problems, and the evolution of that condition "has not been favorable," the information minister said.

Venezuela's cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez is still suffering from respiratory problems, and the evolution of that condition "has not been favorable," the information minister said.

The somewhat pessimistic medical report from the minister, Ernesto Villegas, comes after Chavez's surprise return home on Monday, following a fourth cancer surgery and more than two months of convalescence in Cuba.

The respiratory problems that emerged in the wake of Chavez's surgery on December 11 in Havana "persist, and the trend has not been favorable, so it is still being treated," Villegas said.

"Medical treatment for the underlying condition (cancer) continues without significant adverse effects so far," he said in a statement read and broadcast on television and radio stations in the country.

The 58-year-old Chavez, who has been in power since 1999, "remains in communication with other family members and the government's political team, and is working in close collaboration with the medical team," Villegas added.

(L to R) Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and Bolivian President Evo Morales meet in Caracas, February 19, 2013
(L to R) Venezuelan Vice-President Nicolas Maduro, Bolivian President Evo Morales, Bolivia's Foreign Minister David Choquehuanca meet in Caracas on February 19, 2013. Morales was not allowed to visit cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez.

The minister also noted Chavez's fervent religious faith, and said he had a "maximum will to live" and "the greatest discipline with respect to the management of his health."

In stark contrast with Chavez's usually bombastic style and omnipresence in Venezuelan life, he announced his return on Twitter.

He has not been seen or heard from since his arrival in Caracas, leaving supporters rattled and allowing doubts about his condition to deepen.

Since his last surgery, the only photos released of Chavez came out almost a week ago. He was seen bed-ridden but smiling, looking through a newspaper with two of his daughters at his side.

At the Caracas military hospital where Chavez is said to be continuing his convalescence, soldiers are on guard outside to keep out journalists and curious onlookers.

Guards stand February 20, 2013 in front of the hospital in Caracas where Hugo Chavez is being treated
Guards stand February 20, 2013 in front of the military hospital in Caracas where Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is being treated following his return from Cuba.

Local press reports quote hospital employees as saying they know nothing and have not seen the president.

The government has said Chavez -- who was first diagnosed with cancer in mid-2011 -- has been fitted with a tracheal tube, due to the post-operative respiratory infection.

Government updates on his condition have been sketchy, fueling speculation that the president was worse off than officials admit.

The government has never the president's cancer type.

The most visible face of the Latin American left, the garrulous populist is a thorn in the side of Washington for his alignment of oil-rich Venezuela with nations such as Cuba, Iran and Syria.

Chavez had declared himself free of cancer after earlier rounds of surgery and went on to win another six-year term in October elections.

But he later suffered a relapse and after the latest surgery in Havana, he was too sick to return to Venezuela for his scheduled inauguration on January 10.

The inauguration has been postponed indefinitely, prompting the opposition to cry foul. Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's handpicked heir, has essentially been running the country in Chavez's absence.

Maduro said in broadcast remarks Wednesday that Chavez had planned his return and chose to announce it via Twitter to "quell rumors" about his health.

Bolivian President Evo Morales came to Caracas on Tuesday to see his fellow leftist populist leader, but even he was not allowed to see him. He only got to talk to doctors and Chavez's relatives.

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