BOGOTA, Colombia – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is likely to face a “complex and difficult” recovery after undergoing surgery in Cuba for recurring cancer, Vice President Nicolas Maduro told the nation Wednesday, casting doubt on the 58-year-old leader’s ability to take office Jan. 10.
In a televised address Wednesday, a somber-looking Maduro said the surgery had been “complex, difficult (and) delicate,” but Chavez was in the process of recovering.
“We trust that with the help of God we are going to be victorious,” he said. “And that sooner rather than later we will have our president here.”
The administration did not say when Chavez would return to Venezuela or whether he will be ready to begin a new six-year term next month, but Minister of Information Ernesto Villegas said the nation needs to be prepared for all eventualities.
Chavez traveled to Cuba early Monday to undergo a fourth round of surgery to treat an undisclosed form of cancer he has been battling since at least June 2011. Before leaving, Chavez anointed Maduro his political successor and asked the nation to rally behind the former union leader who has strong ties to Cuba.
If Chavez were unable to take office, or be incapacitated within the first four years of his new term, it would trigger snap elections.
Flanked by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, Maduro said he would keep the nation “accurately informed and prepared” about Chavez’s recovery.
But he also called on detractors to quit “speculating” and “lying” about the president’s condition.
Social networks and websites have been in overdrive for weeks with theories about Chavez’s health. The rumors have found traction because the administration has never said what type of cancer he has or what organs are being affected.
In power since 1999, the socialist firebrand has survived four elections, a recall attempt and one coup. Since announcing that doctors had removed a baseball-sized tumor from his pelvis last year, he has undergone chemotherapy and radiation treatment but always bounced back.