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Mr. Maduro said Sunday that he had met with Mr. Chavez. “We greeted each other and he himself referred to these complications,” Mr. Maduro said, reading from a prepared statement.

“The president gave us precise instructions so that, after finishing the visit, we would tell the [Venezuelan] people about his current health condition,” Mr. Maduro said. “President Chavez’s state of health continues to be delicate, with complications that are being attended to, in a process not without risks.”

Mr. Maduro was seated alongside Mr. Chavez’s eldest daughter, Rosa, and son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, as well as Attorney General Cilia Flores. He held up a copy of a newspaper confirming that his message was recorded Sunday.

“Thanks to his physical and spiritual strength, Comandante Chavez is facing this difficult situation,” Mr. Maduro said.

Mr. Maduro said he had met various times with Mr. Chavez’s medical team and relatives. He said he would remain in Havana “for the coming hours” but didn’t specify how long.

Mr. Maduro, who arrived in Havana on Saturday for the sudden and unexpected trip, is the highest-ranking Venezuelan official to see Mr. Chavez since the surgery in Cuba, where the president’s mentor Fidel Castro has reportedly made regular visits to check on him.

Before flying to Cuba, Mr. Maduro said that Energy Minister Hector Navarro would be in charge of government affairs in the meantime.

“The situation does not look good. The fact that Maduro himself would go to Cuba, leaving Hector Navarro in charge, only seems understandable if Chavez’s health is precarious,” said David Smilde, a University of Georgia sociologist and analyst for the Washington Office on Latin America think tank.

Mr. Smilde said that Mr. Maduro probably made the trip “to be able to talk to Chavez himself and perhaps to talk to the Castros and other Cuban advisers about how to navigate the possibility of Chavez not being able to be sworn in on Jan. 10.”

“Mentioning twice in his nationally televised speech that Chavez has suffered new complications only reinforces the appearance that the situation is serious,” Mr. Smilde said.

Prayers and well-wishes

Medical experts say that it is common for patients who have undergone major surgeries to suffer respiratory infections and that how a patient fares can vary widely from a quick recovery in a couple of days to a fight for life on a respirator.

Mr. Maduro’s latest update differed markedly from a week ago, when said he had received a phone call from the president and that Mr. Chavez was up and walking.

The vice president spoke Sunday below a picture of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the inspiration of Mr. Chavez’s leftist Bolivarian Revolution movement.

Mr. Maduro said that Mr. Chavez had sent year-end greetings to his homeland and a “warm hug to the boys and girls of Venezuela.”

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