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Officials: Chavez faces 'difficult' recovery

By CNN Staff
December 13, 2012 -- Updated 0316 GMT (1116 HKT)
  • NEW: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez in stable condition, information minister says
  • Chavez may not return by January 10 for his inauguration, he says
  • Venezuela's president faces a difficult recovery from cancer surgery, the vice president says
  • Chavez has said he wants the vice president to take over in case he cannot run country

(CNN) -- Two top Venezuelan officials struck a somber tone Wednesday when discussing President Hugo Chavez's cancer surgery.

The Venezuelan leader faces a "complex and difficult" recovery, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on national television.

In an emotional address, he asked Venezuelans to remain united and pray for Chavez, who had surgery Tuesday in Cuba.

Later, the information minister said Venezuelans "should be prepared to understand" if Chavez doesn't return to Venezuela before January 10, when he is scheduled to be inaugurated for a new term as president.

"It would be irresponsible to hide the delicacy of the current moment and the coming days," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas wrote.

The title of his post -- "Chavez Will Live and Overcome" -- was similar to many official announcements since Chavez's illness was first announced last year. But the message's tone was markedly different from past government messages.

"The president is a human being," Villegas said. "He underwent a difficult, complex, delicate operation. And now he is in post-operation, which is also difficult, complex and delicate."

Late Wednesday, the information minister read a statement on Venezuelan state television, saying that Chavez was in stable condition.

"We are confident in the physical and spiritual strength of Comandante Hugo Chavez and in the medical treatment," he said.

Venezuelan leader's long cancer fight
Hugo Chavez: Cancer has returned

The leader's illness was first reported in June 2011, and Chavez had surgery to remove a cancerous tumor. The type of cancer has not been revealed. Since then he has undergone further surgery and radiation treatment in Cuba. He declared himself cancer-free in July. On Saturday, Chavez announced the cancer had returned and he needed the latest surgery.

Maduro's address Wednesday also carried a tone different from that of the more upbeat assessment state media offered immediately after the surgery. In that dispatch, state-run Venezuelan Television called the operation a success.

Doctors in Havana, in a six-hour surgery, removed a lesion that had appeared in the same place as previous lesions, Maduro said. Afterward, Chavez was taken to his room to begin his recovery, which will last several days, the vice president said.

"There were complex moments but, fortunately, this giant -- our commander -- again shows us his strength," Maduro said. Chavez was surrounded by relatives and friends, he added.

The Venezuelan government has released few details about Chavez's illness, fueling widespread speculation about his health and political future.

Health rumors dogged Chavez on the campaign trail this year but didn't stop him from winning re-election in October.

Over the weekend, Chavez said he wanted Maduro to replace him if "something were to happen that would incapacitate me."

CNN's Catherine E. Shoichet and Rafael Romo contributed to this report.

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