Venezuelan gov't: Chavez in "very delicate" condition with new infection

Caracas, Mar 5 (EFE).- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in "very delicate" condition with a new infection, Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas said.

"There is a worsening of respiratory function related to the autoimmune condition that is part of his clinical condition. Currently, there is a new and severe infection," Villegas said.

Chavez is being treated at a military hospital in Caracas and was last seen in public on Dec. 10.

The president spent more than two months in Cuba due to complications that followed a Dec. 11 cancer surgery in Havana.

"The general condition continues to be very delicate," the communications minister said.

The 58-year-old Chavez has undergone four operations, as well as courses of chemotherapy and radiation, since first being diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.

A few days before his Feb. 18 return to Caracas, the government released photos of Chavez flanked by two of his four children as he convalesced in Cuba.

"At this hour, unity and discipline are the foundations for ensuring the political stability of the fatherland," Villegas said.

Rumors have swirled in the Venezuelan media that Chavez is close to death, but officials have denied that the president is dying.

Chavez, who has been in office since 1999, was re-elected last October and is due to serve until January 2019.

Venezuela's Supreme Court ruled that Chavez could miss his scheduled Jan. 10 inauguration and be sworn in later, and that Vice President Nicolas Maduro could continue as acting head of state pending the president's recovery.