Venezuela’s Vice-President Nicolas Maduro said that reports of recent contacts between US and Venezuelan diplomats have been distorted and President Chavez authorised talks Image Credit: AP

Caracas: Hugo Chavez’s top aides accused the opposition and the media Thursday of using the Venezuelan president’s poor health to wage a “psychological war” to destabilise the country, as the cancer-stricken leader struggled with a severe lung infection.

The hardline stance was adopted after Vice-President Nicolas Maduro returned from a visit with the ailing Chavez in Cuba, where he is suffering from complications more than three weeks after undergoing cancer surgery.

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said a “severe pulmonary infection” that Chavez developed after the surgery had led to a “respiratory insufficiency” requiring strict adherence to his treatment.

Villegas then levelled the charge that the president’s health had become the target of a campaign to destabilise the government and finish off its socialist revolution.

The government “warns the Venezuelan people about the psychological war that the transnational media complex has unleashed around the health of the chief of state, with the ultimate goal of destabilising the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela,” he said in a televised statement.

The statement came amid rising demands at home for a detailed accounting of Chavez’s condition and whether he is fit to take the oath of office January 10 for another six year term.

Venezuela’s constitution calls for new elections to be held within 30 days if the president is unable to take the oath of office or dies during his first four years in office.

But Maduro and National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello, the regime’s number two and three leaders, made clear on their return from Cuba that they were not preparing for a transfer of power.

“Here there is only one transition and it began at least six years ago and it was decreed by comandante Hugo Chavez,” Maduro said, referring to the launch in 2006 of the president’s socialist revolution.

Maduro and Cabello spoke on Venezuelan state television, as they toured a coffee packaging plant in Caracas that had been taken over by the state.

Both men went out of their way to deny rumors of an internal power struggle between them, with Maduro saying they had sworn before Chavez that they would remain united.