International News

Hugo Chávez Has "Severe" Respiratory Infection, May Be on Respirator and Close to Death

Hugo Chávez is in "severe" condition with what Venezuelan officials say is a "respiratory deficiency" following months of cancer treatment.

The statement has led some to predict that the leftist president is on life support and will pass away imminently. But here in Miami -- where el exilio has been waiting half a century for Fidel to kick the bucket -- we aren't holding our breath.

Ever since Chávez himself revealed on live television that doctors had removed a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region last summer, Venezuelan officials have tried to control information surrounding his illness.

They have never identified the type of cancer and insisted in the run up to the October 7 election that Chávez's presidency -- not to mention life -- was not at risk.

But the newest statement appears to have proven right skeptics of the socialist government.

"How far will the lies go?" tweeted José Rafael Marquina, a Naples doctor who has long claimed to have inside knowledge of Chávez's illness. "This cancer is a terminal illness without possibility of a cure."

Marquina went on to blast the Cuban healthcare system on which Chávez and chavistas have pinned their hopes.

"All the interventions that they have done in Cuba have been totally useless and have just created complications... which could have been avoided if he had been treated at MD Anderson Hospital in Houston, Texas," Marquina wrote.

Both Venezuela and Cuba remain swirled in rumors over just how close Chávez is to death. Marquina, for one, says the president is being kept alive by a mechanical respirator.

"If anyone doubts that he is intubated, the treatment for respiratory 'insufficiency' is oxygen and intubation," he wrote on Twitter.

The president's worsening health has set off a constitutional crisis in the oil-rich country, with National Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello set to take over the presidency in case of Chávez's death -- at least until new elections can be held.

Other experts, meanwhile, are warning that Chávez could leave behind a country in economic crisis.

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Michael E. Miller was a staff writer at Miami New Times for five years. His work for New Times won many national awards, including back-to-back-to-back Sigma Delta Chi medallions. He now covers local enterprise for the Washington Post.