Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been “battling for his life” after returning home from Cuba in mid-February, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on Thursday.
Maduro, whom Chavez named as his successor, said Chavez “didn't take care of his health because he gave his body and soul” to the people.
"He's battling for his life, for his health, and we are there with him," he told Venezuelan TV in Caracas, as reported by the BBC.
The 58-year-old socialist leader, who won re-election to a third presidential term on Oct. 7, has not been seen or heard in public since he underwent his fourth cancer surgery in Havana on Dec. 11.
The government says Chavez, who returned to the country on Feb. 18, has been breathing with the help of a tracheal tube after surviving a serious respiratory infection following surgery, and that he has been receiving treatment at a military hospital in Caracas for "respiratory insufficiency."
However, a majority of Venezuelans believe that their long-standing president will return.
Luis Vicente Leon, chief of the Datanalisis polling firm, told the Associated Press that a poll held Feb. 11 of 1,198 people found that nearly 58 percent of Venezuelans believe Chavez will recover, while about 30 percent believe he will not return to power and 12.5 percent say they don't know what will happen. One percent, meanwhile, believe Chavez was never sick.
The poll also found that 44 percent think the government has not been transparent in discussing Chavez's health.
"The president's prolonged absence and his critical situation have not been converted into massive pessimism about his return," Leon tweeted Thursday.
Maduro urged Venezuelans to keep praying for Chavez, who has been their president for more than 14 years.
"Do you know why Comandante Chavez neglected his health and has been battling (cancer) for nearly two years?" he said. "Because he completely surrendered body and soul and forgot all his obligations to himself in order to give himself to the homeland."
Chavez had undergone three surgeries in less than a year and two sessions of radiation treatments before the presidential election. He had declared last May that he had beaten the disease.
Details remain unknown about the type of cancer or the exact location in his pelvic region where the tumors have been removed.
On Feb. 15, the government released photographs of Chavez lying in a bed in Cuba with his two daughters by his side.
Chavez’s staunch ally Diosdado Cabello, who was re-elected Jan. 5 as head of the National Assembly on Saturday, has the constitutional responsibility to assume presidential powers until a new president is elected and sworn in, if Chavez dies or becomes wholly incapacitated.