Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has not been seen in public for more than a month, is "fighting for his life" after cancer surgery in Cuba, former vice president Elias Jaua said on Sunday.
Chavez's extended absence has fueled growing political uncertainty in Venezuela. But Jaua said the usually outspoken and ever-present leftist leader was "alive and fighting for a full recovery".
"The situation is complex and delicate, but it is true that Hugo Chavez has fought and is fighting for his life," said Jaua, who was vice president from January 2010 until October.
He spoke during a meeting in Caracas of the ruling United Socialist Party in support of Chavez. Similar meetings were held simultaneously in the cities of Zulia (northwest), Trujillo (west) and Vargas (north), and were broadcast on government television.
Chavez, whose OPEC-member nation controls the world's largest proven oil reserves, has been out of the public eye since undergoing surgery in Havana on 11 December. It is the fourth such operation in the 18 months since his condition was made public.
Previously, officials said the fiery leftist leader was suffering from a severe pulmonary infection that resulted in a "respiratory insufficiency." That fuelled speculation about his prospects for a full recovery — and his political future.
On Saturday, his brother Adan denied rumours that Chavez was in a coma, saying the Venezuelan leader was responding "well" to cancer treatment and was making progress on a daily basis.
Chavez's anointed heir, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, met with his ailing boss late on Saturday.
During his trip, Maduro also met with Cuban President Raul Castro along with Venezuelan Parliament President Diosdado Cabello, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez and Attorney General Cilia Flores.
On Thursday, the government was forced to postpone the president's scheduled inauguration, as it became clear that Chavez could not attend. Authorities insist the Venezuelan constitution allows him to take the oath of office at a later time.
But the opposition has objected, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader's health — a demand rejected by the Supreme Court, which said the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.