A Mass is held Friday to pray for Hugo Chavez's health at a chapel in… (Venezuela Presidencia…)
CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been out of public view since his December surgery for cancer, is undergoing another round of chemotherapy in a bid to stop the spread of the disease, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said.
Speaking at a Mass at the military hospital where Chavez was admitted Feb. 18, Maduro said late Friday that the treatments would be "difficult."
"But he has a strength superior to the treatments that he is receiving, and he is in a good state of mind," Maduro said.
Chavez underwent at least one round of chemotherapy shortly after his initial two surgeries in Cuba in June 2011 to deal with a cancer, believed to be abdominal, on which little information has been divulged. Chavez has undergone a total of four surgeries.
Maduro said the chemotherapy Chavez was receiving is typical for patients after such surgeries. Authorities have said little about Chavez's condition or prognosis since his Dec. 11 operation in Havana, other than that he is suffering from respiratory weakness, that he is on a respirator and that he continues to fight for his life.
Speaking Saturday in the blue-collar Petare barrio of Caracas, Foreign Minister Elias Jaua responded to opposition figures who have demanded that an independent commission ascertain that Chavez is indeed alive and capable of performing his presidential duties. Critics said if he was not mentally or physically fit, Chavez should resign and new elections should be held.
"Chavez is undergoing the treatment he has to receive," Jaua said. "Those who don't want him to recover are the ones [exerting] this blackmail, this criminal pressure, before which we will never give in."
Maduro, Jaua and other top officials in the Chavez government have stepped up criticism of opposition leaders in recent days. Maduro proposed a "truth commission" be set up to investigate alleged crimes committed by opposition politicians before Chavez took office in 1999.
And on Thursday, former Caracas borough Mayor Leopoldo Lopez appeared in court to answer charges of influence peddling stemming from his tenure as an executive at the state-run oil company, Petroleos de Venezuela, in the late 1990s. Charges were filed shortly after Maduro said last week that Lopez should stand trial.
"Why is Lopez being prosecuted now? Possibly to promote Maduro as Chavez's true successor: aggressive, implacable and someone able to impose his will," said political science professor Maruja Tarre of Simon Bolivar University in Caracas.
Special correspondents Mogollon reported from Caracas and Kraul from Bogota, Colombia.