Chavez is improving

BY: Abigail Bonsu

A lung infection afflicting Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is controlled, and his health is progressing positively, the government said Sunday.

"In spite of the delicate state of his health ... the general medical evolution has been favourable in recent days," it said in a statement that was published by state news

The government added that the president, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, is conscious and in contact with his family and his political and medical advisers.

Chavez, 58, has not made a public appearance since doctors operated on him a month ago. The long absence is not typical of the loquacious leader, who missed his own inauguration last week.

After the operation, a government spokesman said Chavez was battling a severe lung infection that caused respiratory failure. Though the infection is controlled, the president will continue to require "specific measures to solve respiratory insufficiency," read the Sunday statement.

The communique came the same weekend various high-level officials visited Cuba, including Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro; Diosdado Cabello, the head of the National Assembly; and Oil and Mining Minister Rafael Ramirez, state news reported.

Before he left for Cuba, Chavez said he wanted Maduro to assume the presidency if he becomes incapacitated and called on voters to support him at the polls.

On Thursday, the day of the missed inauguration ceremony, Maduro asked supporters of the president to take an oath of "absolute loyalty to the leadership of Comandante Hugo Chavez."

Neither Chavez nor the government has said what type of cancer he has, and speculation about his health has surged in recent weeks. Opposition politicians have decried the lack of transparency.

After a recent trip to Cuba, the president's older brother, Adan Chavez, dismissed rumors Chavez was in a coma and that his family was discussing the possibility of taking him off life support.

"We are sure that with the support of God, science and the people, our president will emerge from this new battle," the brother said.