Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez in ‘good spirits’

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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in “good spirits” but fighting for his life as he undergoes chemotherapy in a Caracas military hospital, the vice president has said.

Nicolas Maduro, the leftist leader’s political heir, rejected a wave of rumours about Chavez’s health on Friday, and lashed out at the opposition, which accused him of lying about the president’s condition.

Maduro disclosed for the first time that Chavez began chemotherapy following his fourth round of cancer surgery in Cuba in December and decided to continue the treatment in Caracas on February 18.

“He has strength that is superior to the treatments that he is receiving and he is in good spirits, battling, receiving his treatments,” he told reporters after a mass for Chavez in a new chapel on the hospital grounds named “hope.” When he went into the operating room in Havana on December 11, Maduro recalled, Chavez told his aides that there was a “possibility that he would not come out” alive, but he survived it.

At the end of the year, the 58-year-old leader’s condition “worsened” due to a respiratory infection. A tracheal tube was inserted later to assist his breathing.

But after a “general improvement” of his vital organs in January, the Chavez and his doctors in Cuba decided to begin “complementary treatments, which is chemotherapy,” the vice president said.

Maduro said that Chavez decided last month to return to Venezuela and told his aides: “I am going to enter a new phase with the complementary treatments, more intense and very difficult, and I want to be in Caracas, so do everything that must be done to return to Caracas in safe conditions.”

On Thursday, the vice president said that Chavez was “battling for his health, for his life, and we are accompanying him,” adding later that the president was in a “complex and difficult” stage. But he did not offer any details.