CARACAS, Venezuela – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez suffered bleeding during his cancer surgery in Cuba that required "corrective measures" to stanch the flow, his government said Thursday.
But in the latest of a series of unusually frank reports about the president's delicate condition, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas also said Chavez has been making a "progressive and favorable" recovery after the complications from Tuesday's surgery.
"This recovery process, nevertheless, will require a prudent period of time as a consequence of the complexity of the surgery performed," Villegas added.
The government has begun providing regular updates on the president's recovery after the six-hour surgery in what appears to be a slight easing of the secrecy that has surrounded Chavez's medical treatment since he fell ill last year.
The latest details about Chavez's health came as supporters held church services to pray for him and as Venezuelans increasingly acknowledged that their country might be on the verge of political change if the leftist leader cannot be sworn in for his fourth term early next year.
One-man rule has been the glue that has held together Chavez's socialist movement, and he hadn't groomed any clear successor until he announced over the weekend that if cancer cuts short his presidency he wants his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, to take over.
Some Venezuelans say they think battles over power may already be brewing within the president's diverse "Chavismo" movement, which includes groups from radical leftists to moderates. Maduro heads a civilian political wing that is closely aligned with Cuba's communist government. National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, a former military officer, is thought to wield power within the military.
"In politics, everything is possible," said Gustavo Chourio, a bookseller in downtown Caracas. "Maduro doesn't have influence with those in the military. Diosdado has the influence."
Throughout Chavez's nearly 14-year government, egos and political differences have largely taken a back seat as his allies have followed him and parroted his stances. Chourio said he believes the president's movement will live on without him because it has grown strong, but he predicted Maduro and Cabello will have to reckon and deal with each other.
"Those two will have to work it out to guarantee the country's stability and the continuation of the process," said Chourio, a longtime Chavez supporter.
Some analysts say struggles for control seem inevitable.
"What's likely to happen is a power struggle between Maduro and Cabello," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "It is almost certain that an intense power struggle is already under way within Chavismo."
Shifter said key protagonists in the president's camp, including Maduro and Cabello, have long had to suppress their own personal ambitions and leave all decision-making to Chavez.
"With Chavez no longer on the scene, and the power vacuum exposed, the situation becomes extremely unpredictable," Shifter said. "The fact that Maduro is Chavez's designated successor gives him the upper hand for the time being, but that is unlikely to last long. The others vying for power are wily and ruthless. From the outset, the Chavez regime has been about power — including lots of money — and now all of that is up for grabs."
Maduro and Cabello, for their part, projected a united front this week by appearing together at events along with other Cabinet ministers and military commanders. Speaking alongside Cabello and others Wednesday, Maduro said: "We're more united than ever."
Maduro was somber-faced as he warned this week Chavez faced a "complex and hard" recovery period. Villegas has acknowledged that it's possible the president might not be well enough in time for his Jan. 10 inauguration for a new six-week term.
It remains unclear where the bleeding occurred or how severe the complications were. Still secret are numerous details about the cancer in the president's pelvic area, including the type and location of the tumors that have been removed.
The government said in its statement that "additional specific treatments are foreseen in order to contribute to the full recovery of his health."
Health Minister Eugenia Sader also was upbeat, telling reporters "he's in excellent condition" and with family and friends.
Chavez underwent his fourth cancer-related operation in Havana after announcing that tests had found the illness had come back despite previous operations, chemotherapy and radiation treatments.
Several outside medical experts have said that based on Chavez's account of his condition and his treatment so far, they doubt the cancer can be cured. Some cancer experts say Chavez could be suffering from an aggressive type of sarcoma.
Villegas expressed hope on Wednesday about the president returning home for his inauguration, but said in a written message on a government website that if Chavez isn't well enough by then "our people should be prepared to understand it."
The constitution says presidents should be sworn in before the National Assembly, and if that's not possible then before the Supreme Court.
If Chavez were to die or be unable to continue in office, the constitution says that new elections should be held within 30 days. If that happens before the swearing-in, the president of the National Assembly is to take over temporarily until elections are held.
Before his surgery, Chavez acknowledged such a scenario. He said on television, with Maduro and Cabello seated beside him, that if he is unable to continue on as president, Maduro should be elected to take his place and lead the socialist movement.
The severity of Chavez's health condition prompted a visit to Cuba earlier this week by Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa, who wished his close ally the best while also acknowledging the possibility that cancer might end his presidency.
"Chavez is very important for Latin America, but if he can't continue at the head of Venezuela, the processes of change have to continue," Correa said at a news conference in Quito on Wednesday.
In one of its twice-annual sessions on Thursday, Cuba's parliament unanimously passed a resolution of support for Chavez.
"We wish for his quick recovery," said the resolution, according to footage broadcast by state television. "At the same time ... we ratify our unconditional solidarity and support, under any circumstances, for the sister Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela in this new battle."