Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas reads a statement… (AFP / Presidencia )
BOGOTA, Colombia — Venezuela's government, facing demands from opposition leaders to say whether ailing President Hugo Chavez expects to be sworn in Jan. 10, announced Thursday night that Chavez was suffering "respiratory deficiency" related to a severe lung infection.
In a statement read before a national television audience, Communications and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Chavez had "encountered complications" after his fourth surgery in Havana in December to treat cancer first diagnosed in June 2011.
Villegas made no reference to Jan. 10 or whether Chavez would be fit enough to return to Venezuela to be sworn in for a fourth term.
Still undetermined is whether the government will follow constitutional guidelines and call an election within 30 days if the incumbent's absence is "permanent" or he is unable to take office. Officials have spoken in recent weeks of asking the Supreme Court to rule for a postponement of the swearing-in date, although some members of the opposition have said such a postponement would be unconstitutional.
Villegas said the opposition was conducting a "psychological war" with the intent of "destabilizing" the country.
Kraul is a special correspondent.