Venezuela VP: ailing Chavez in 'best moment'

By By JORGE RUEDA

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's condition has improved and he is now optimistic as he faces more treatment following cancer surgery, his vice president said Saturday.

Vice President Nicolas Maduro said after meeting with Chavez in Cuba that the ailing president is now "in the best moment we've seen him in these days of struggle" following his Dec. 11 cancer surgery. Chavez hasn't been seen or spoken publicly since before the operation, and his government has said he suffered complications including a severe respiratory infection but has recently been getting better.

Maduro spoke on state television early Saturday after returning from Havana to Venezuela. He said he was leaving shortly for a summit meeting in Chile and was taking a written message from Chavez.

"We're taking a message prepared by the president, and we're going to turn it over to heads of state who attend the CELAC summit. He makes fundament proposals," Maduro said, adding that the message was in his handwriting.

Maduro said Chavez also sent messages for Venezuelans, including that he said he was "very optimistic in what we're doing." Maduro said that referred to the president's treatment and that Chavez is "hanging on to Christ and to life."

The vice president, whom Chavez designated as his successor before the operation, spoke on television surrounded by officials including Defense Minister Diego Molero and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas. Maduro said that Villegas would give a more detailed update on Chavez's health later Saturday.

Chavez has undergone repeated surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer. He has undergone much of his treatment in Cuba.

The 58-year-old president won re-election in October, and lawmakers indefinitely put off his inauguration earlier this month in a decision that was condemned by opponents but upheld by the Supreme Court.

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