CARACAS (AFP) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in "good spirits" but fighting for his life as he undergoes chemotherapy in a Caracas military hospital, the vice president said on Friday, revealing new details about the leftist leader's treatment.
Nicolas Maduro, the leftist leader's political heir, lashed out against a wave of rumours about Chavez's health, accusing the Miami-based Venezuelan diaspora of fomenting them to destabilise the nation.
After the opposition accused him of lying about Chavez's health, Maduro disclosed for the first time that the president began chemotherapy following his fourth cancer surgery in Cuba in December and decided to continue the treatment in Caracas on February 18.
"He has strength that is superior to the treatments that he is receiving and he is in good spirits, battling, receiving his treatments," he told reporters after a mass for Chavez in a new chapel on the hospital grounds named "hope."
When he went into the operating room in Havana on December 11, Maduro recalled, Chavez told his aides that there was a "possibility that he would not come out" alive, but he survived it.
At the end of the year, his condition "worsened" due to a respiratory infection and a tracheal tube was inserted to assist his breathing.
But after a "general improvement" of his vital organs in January, the firebrand leader and his doctors in Cuba decided to begin chemotherapy and radiation therapy, the vice president said.
Maduro said that Chavez decided last month to return to Venezuela and told his aides: "I am going to enter a new phase with the complementary treatments, more intense and very difficult, and I want to be in Caracas, so do everything that must be done to return to Caracas in safe conditions."
Senior officials had spent the day rebuffing rumors that Chavez may be dead or on his deathbed.
Maduro singled out the conservative Spanish newspaper ABC and Colombian radio Caracol, calling them "fascist" news organisations that are part of a "campaign against the stability of Venezuela, lying about Chavez." ABC reported on Friday that Chavez was transferred to the presidential retreat in the island of La Orchilada days ago to spend his final moments with his family there.
Radio Caracol interviewed Panama's former ambassador to the Organisation of American States, Guillermo Cochez, who claims that Chavez was taken off life support days ago after being declared brain dead.
Chavez, whose nation sits on the world's largest proven oil reserve, has not come out or spoken in public in almost three months.
The government has only released a set of pictures on February 15, showing him smiling in his sickbed and flanked by two daughters, three days before he returned to Caracas in the dead of night.
The normally garrulous and omnipresent leader's prolonged absence from public view has fueled a slew of rumors on social media and the streets of Caracas.