A woman holds a candle along with a poster of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez at a candlelight vigil to pray for his health as he remains in a hospital undergoing cancer treatment, in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Feb. 22, 2013. / AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) A new and severe respiratory infection has put cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez in a "very delicate" state, and his breathing has deteriorated, Venezuela's communications minister announced Monday.
Communications Minister Ernesto Villegas made the announcement late Monday in a statement he read on national television, looking serious but not somber.
He said Chavez's "worsening respiratory function" was related to a weakening of Chavez's immune system related to "a new and severe respiratory infection."
Villegas said Chavez was "standing by Christ and life conscious of the difficulties he faces."
He said the socialist leader who has governed Venezuela for more than 14 years was "strictly following the program" designed by his medical team.
The 58-year-old Chavez was flown home to Venezuela on Feb. 18 a little more than two months after undergoing his fourth surgery in Cuba for an unspecified cancer in the pelvic region.
He had suffered a severe respiratory infection in Cuba in the last days of 2012 that nearly killed him, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said last week. A tracheal tube was inserted then and government officials have said his breathing remained labored.
The cancer was first diagnosed in June 2011, and Chavez has undergone radiation treatment and chemotherapy after operations.
He has not been seen nor heard of - other than proof-of-life photos released on Feb. 15 - since he flew to Cuba for his last surgery, which was performed on Dec. 11.
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