Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in a "complex" condition and facing a tough recovery after his latest surgery for cancer in Cuba, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said on Wednesday.
Looking grave-faced in an address to the nation, Maduro urged Venezuelans to unite in prayer for their 58-year-old president, and to keep faith that Chavez would return soon, reports Reuters.
"Yesterday's operation was complex, difficult and delicate, so the post-operation process will also be a complex and tough process," Maduro said, flanked by ministers who flew in overnight after accompanying Chavez in hospital.
Maduro, whom Chavez has named as a preferred successor should he be incapacitated, offered no medical details but called on the nation to stay united and in prayer.
"We maintain ... faith that with God's help we will overcome and sooner rather than later we will have our commander president here."
Supporters have been holding prayer vigils around the South American nation, while opponents also sent the socialist leader best wishes for a successful recovery.
The stakes are enormous - not just for leadership of a nation with the world's largest oil reserves but also for allies around Latin America and the Caribbean who rely on Chavez's generous oil subsidies and other aid.
President Raul Castro's communist government in Cuba is particularly vulnerable because of its dependence on more than 100,000 barrels of oil per day from Venezuela.
After 14 years of acrimony with the bombastic Chavez, Washington is watching the situation closely, too.
Venezuela's government said on Tuesday night that a six-hour operation - Chavez's fourth in Havana since mid-2011 for a recurring cancer in the pelvic region - had concluded "correctly and successfully."
No medical details were released, leaving Venezuelans again guessing about what type of cancer Chavez was suffering, and if all malignant tissues had been completely removed.
Opposition leaders criticized the government for lack of transparency, comparing the handling of Chavez's cancer with the detailed doctors' reports made public during other Latin American leaders' bouts with the disease in recent years.
Chavez changed the panorama before flying to Cuba by naming Maduro as his chosen replacement and urging Venezuelans to vote for him should an election be triggered by his departure from office.
Maduro, who is also foreign minister, is handling the day-to-day leadership of government.