Venezuela is in the midst of commemorating Hugo Chávez’s 59th birthday, with an memorial that began Sunday, July 28, and will continue for the rest of this week. Ecuador's President Rafael Correa paid a visit to Caracas on Monday to pay his respects to Chavez and meet with his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolás Maduro.

Correa, who was a close friend of the late president, said in an interview with TV station Telesur that he was aware of the seriousness of Chávez’s illness, having been in touch with former Cuban President Fidel Castro all through the treatment that Chávez received for an unspecified type of cancer. “Fidel Castro warned me that he had just a few months to live,” Correa said. “[Castro] said the issue was very serious, that we had to get ready for a big emotional blow.”

“Nobody should be indispensable, but we are all necessary. Hugo was very necessary,” added Correa.

Correa said that this conversation took place on Dec. 10, 2012, on the eve of Chávez’s fourth operation. Correa was then on official visit in Havanna and he said that Chávez looked “fine” and “in good spirits” back then, as reported by Ecuadorian newspaper El Universo.

This declaration helps in shedding light on the last three months of the Venezuelan leader's life, which authorities had kept quiet about until now.

This declaration also puts into question the optimism shown by the Venezuelan officials, led by Maduro. On Christmas Day 2012, the government said the president was already walking and going to therapy. Barely a week before Chávez’s passing, for one, Maduro said they had had a five-hour meeting to discuss instructions. Spanish newspaper El País stated that, knowing that in December Chávez’s situation was terminal, these statements did not seem plausible.