Chavez Worsens With New Lung Infection, Venezuela Aide Says

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s breathing problems have worsened and his health is in a “very delicate” state as he struggles with chemotherapy treatment, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said.

Chavez has a “severe” respiratory infection, his second this year, and is receiving chemotherapy that has had a “strong impact” on the 58-year-old president, Villegas said in a national address yesterday. Prices on the country’s bonds rose.

“There has been a worsening in his respiratory infection in relation to the state of his immunosuppression,” Villegas said.

The infection is the latest setback for Chavez, who has undergone four cancer-related surgeries in Cuba since June 2011. Aside from photos released last month and messages posted to Chavez’s Twitter account on his return to Venezuela on Feb. 18, the former paratrooper hasn’t been seen in public since traveling to Havana for surgery Dec. 10.

“The respiratory infection can severely compromise his ability to tolerate chemotherapy,” said Michael Pishvaian, an oncologist at the Lombardi Comprehensive Cancer Center at Georgetown University in Washington who has not treated Chavez. “He may survive two infections - but he will likely be quite weakened even upon recovery.”

Yields on Venezuela’s benchmark 9.25 percent dollar bonds due in 2027 fell 11 basis points, or 0.11 percentage point, to 8.79 percent at 12:37 p.m. in Caracas. The price rose 0.89 cent to 103.77 cents on the dollar.

Ministerial Appointments

With Chavez convalescing, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, 50, has announced ministerial appointments and economic decisions and presented the annual state of the union report to the National Assembly. Just before flying to Cuba for his fourth surgery in December, Chavez called on Venezuelans to unite behind Maduro as his successor if he couldn’t fulfill his term.

Maduro is meeting key figures within the government and armed forces at the palace, state television reported today.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, if Chavez dies or steps down an election must be held within 30 days. Chavez last year proclaimed himself healthy and ran a successful re-election campaign 14 years after first winning the presidency.

‘Very Close’

“Yesterday’s announcement indicates that the scenario proposed by Chavez in December of new elections is very close to happening,” Nicmer Evans, a political analyst at the Universidad Central de Venezuela and a candidate for mayor of Caracas in primaries being held by Chavez’s PSUV party, said at a forum in Caracas today.

Villegas first announced Jan. 3 that Chavez was suffering from a respiratory infection. He subsequently said the infection had been brought under control.

No images of Chavez’s surprise return to Caracas two weeks ago were broadcast and the government said he isn’t able to speak.

“Don’t be sad, my people,” Chavez’s daughter Maria Gabriela Chavez said yesterday on her Twitter account after the official statement about her father’s health was released. “Let us raise our prayers and not lose our faith even for a single moment. All my love and strength to all of you.”

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