CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuela's vice president said Tuesday that President Hugo Chavez has been making progress in his treatment for a severe respiratory infection and asked questions of his aides during a recent visit to Cuba, where the president is recovering.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on television that he and other officials including Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez met with Chavez on Monday. Maduro said they provided him with an update on "the government in a new stage" and other matters.
"He asked our friend Rafael Ramirez about (certain) aspects" of the government, Maduro said in a televised meeting with state governors, adding that Chavez had questioned other officials present.
"Our commander is climbing the hill, he's advancing, and that fills us with great happiness," he said.
Maduro expressed gratitude to Chavez's medical team but didn't give details, only saying that Chavez "is in battle."
The 58-year-old president, who was re-elected in October, has not made any public comments since his latest cancer surgery in Cuba on Dec. 11. He has been fighting an unspecified type of pelvic cancer, and his long silence has fed speculation about why he hasn't addressed the country by phone on television, as he has during past treatments in Cuba. Government officials have said Chavez is being treated for "respiratory deficiency."
Officials have indefinitely postponed Chavez's inauguration despite complaints by the opposition that the move is unconstitutional.
Pro-Chavez lawmaker and congressional Vice President Dario Vivas told Venezuelan radio station Union Radio that Maduro would represent the government at the annual state-of-the-nation speech Tuesday afternoon before the National Assembly.
Opposition leaders, however, said that under the constitution the president is responsible for giving the annual address. Last January, even as he was between cancer treatments, Chavez spoke for nine hours before lawmakers.
Francisca Harvey, 46, a member of the pro-government group Frente Francisco de Miranda, showed her support outside the National Assembly, where she and others eagerly awaited Maduro's speech as loudspeakers blared the song "Chavez, heart of the people."
"He's a strong man," Harvey said. "It's important that we have him healthy."
Another woman outside the palace gates, Emiliana Quintero, a 54-year-old beautician, said she was loyal to the new government, even without Chavez present.
"We are going to support Nicolas while the president recovers," Quintero said, referring to the vice president.
Maduro made his comments about Chavez's health Tuesday at a gathering of state governors in Caracas after returning from Cuba along with Ramirez, Attorney General Cilia Flores and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
The governors who attended included Chavez's elder brother, Adan, other allied politicians and top opposition leader Henrique Capriles and two other opposition governors.
Maduro used the occasion to condemn street violence during a recent student protest in the western state of Tachira and accuse anti-Chavez groups of trying to sabotage the country's power grid.