Communications Minister: Chavez has Beaten Respiratory Infection

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President Hugo Chavez has beaten a severe respiratory infection that occurred after his latest cancer surgery in Cuba, Venezuelan Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said Saturday in Santiago.

"The respiratory infection has been overcome, though there still is some degree of breathing difficulty that is being treated appropriately," he said on the sidelines of a regional summit with European Union leaders in the Chilean capital.

"Forty-five days after surgery to remove a malignant tumor in the pelvis" which triggered severe breathing complications, Chavez's general condition is "favorable,” Villegas also said in an unusually detailed message broadcast on official Venezuelan radio and television.

"Comandante Chavez has fully completed the medical treatment and has always been active in the recovery process which is continuing," the minister added.

Earlier Saturday, Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Chavez has entered a phase of "complementary treatment."

He made the statement after his return from Havana, where he was able to see the recovering Chavez and had found him "in his best moment."

"The president has entered the phase of complementary treatment to combat his illness," Maduro said upon his return. He did not immediately say if that meant more radiation therapy, chemotherapy or some alternative cancer care.

He added that the president was "optimistic and has a lot of faith in what we are doing" and was "clinging to Christ and life."

The firebrand leftist leader has not been seen for more than a month since undergoing his latest round of cancer surgery in Havana. Government officials had repeatedly said in recent days that his condition is improving.

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua said Thursday Chavez was making progress in his recovery from cancer surgery, but faced a tough battle ahead.

Chavez, who had surgery on December 11, is a former paratrooper who first came to power in the oil-rich South American country in 1999 and won another six-year term in October, despite questions about his health.

Throughout his illness, first detected in June 2011, Chavez has refused to relinquish the powers of the presidency, even when leaving for Cuba last month.

He suffered complications following his latest surgery, including a severe lung infection.

Chavez was too sick to attend his own January 10 inauguration, prompting the government to delay the swearing-in indefinitely under an interpretation of the constitution that was heavily criticized by the opposition.

The Chavez-controlled National Assembly and Supreme Court both approved the arrangement, which keeps his administration in place under Maduro until the president can take the oath of office for his fourth term.

Chavez, who was an army lieutenant colonel when he led a failed 1992 coup against then president Carlos Andres Perez, was himself the victim of a coup that removed him from power for two days in 2002. After that episode, the armed forces underwent a major purge, and Chavez put his own stamp on the institution.

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