Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is fighting for his life in a Caracas military hospital 10 days after returning from cancer treatment in Cuba, his vice president said Thursday.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro did not provide more details, but the government said last week that Chavez was still suffering from a respiratory infection and that the trajectory was not favorable.
As he presented subsidized homes on state-run television, Maduro said that Chavez was "battling for his health, for his life, and we are accompanying him," adding later that the president was in a "complex and difficult" stage.
Chavez's chosen successor and other officials have used similar phrases to describe the leftist leader's condition in recent weeks.
"Do you know why he neglected his health?" the vice president asked.
"Because he gave his body and soul completely and forgot all his obligations to himself to give the people a fatherland, to give those who had nothing a job, a life, a house, health, food, education."
Chavez, the flamboyant standard-bearer of the Latin American left for more than a decade, has not spoken or appeared in public since undergoing a fourth round of cancer surgery in Cuba on December 11.
Only one set of pictures has been released, on February 15, showing him in his Havana hospital bed, smiling with two of his daughters.
He spent two months in the Cuban capital before returning to Venezuela in the dead of night on February 18.
Maduro praised Cuba's leaders and the work of Cuban doctors, nurses and scientists who helped Chavez "overcome every stage of the operation and the post-operation."
"Now we are in this complex and difficult stage, continuing the treatment of our commander in chief," he said later Thursday at the end of a meeting of eight Latin American and Caribbean states.
With Chavez out of sight since his return, rumors about his health have spread on social media websites and in the streets of Caracas.
But the government insists that he is still in charge, giving orders from his sickbed by writing because a tracheal tube hinders his speech.
Maduro lashed out against the "lies and nastiness on Twitter and Facebook" spread by a "small and venomous minority."
Chavez was first diagnosed with cancer in the pelvic region in June 2011. He underwent four surgeries in 18 months, as well as chemotherapy. Officials have provided virtually no details on the type, location or severity of the disease.
The firebrand leader, whose nation sits atop the world's biggest proven oil reserves, had declared himself cancer-free last summer and was re-elected to a six-year term in October.
But he announced in December that he needed to return to Cuba because the cancer had returned. He also told Venezuelans to vote for Maduro if he was unable to return to power.
Chavez was supposed to be sworn in to office on January 10, but the Supreme Court approved an indefinite delay, arguing that there was continuity in the government.
Under the constitution, an election must be called within 30 days if the president becomes incapacitated.