Officials sent mixed signals Sunday about the condition of cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, fueling growing political uncertainty in the oil-rich country, AFP reports.
Chavez, who has not been seen in public for more than a month, is "fighting for his life," former vice president Elias Jaua said.
"The situation is complex and delicate, but it is true that Hugo Chavez has fought and is fighting for his life," said Jaua, who was in office from January 2010 until October.
Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas, however, indicated that the usually outspoken and ever-present leftist leader, hospitalized in Cuba following his fourth cancer operation last month, was doing better.
"Despite his delicate health state since his complex surgery on December 11, his general health has improved in recent days," Villegas said in a statement read on radio and television.
He said the president's previously disclosed severe pulmonary infection was "under control" but that he still required treatment for "respiratory failure."
Chavez, whose OPEC-member nation controls the world's largest proven oil reserves, has been out of sight since leaving for Cuba for the latest round of treatment in the 18 months since his condition was made public.
Uncertainty about his status has fueled speculation about his prospects for a full recovery -- and his political future.
The latest updates followed a denial from Chavez's brother Adan Saturday that the 58-year-old was in a coma. Instead, he said the Venezuelan leader was responding "well" to treatment and making progress on a daily basis.
Chavez's anointed heir, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, met with his ailing boss late Saturday.
During his trip, Maduro also met with Cuban President Raul Castro along with Venezuelan Parliament President Diosdado Cabello, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.
A slew of leftist leaders and Venezuelan officials have also come to Chavez's bedside, with Brazil's former president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva planning a trip to Havana in late January, according to his spokesman.
During his 2003-2010 rule, Lula, himself a cancer survivor, built a strong relationship with the Chavez government in power since 1999.
On Thursday, the government was forced to postpone the president's scheduled inauguration, as it became clear that Chavez could not attend. Authorities insist the Venezuelan constitution allows him to take the oath of office at a later time.
But the opposition has objected, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader's health -- a demand rejected by the Supreme Court, which said the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.