Venezuela's Chavez overcomes infection, treatment continues

SANTIAGO/CARACAS Sat Jan 26, 2013 5:46pm EST

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez attend a rally to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the last Venezuelan dictatorship collapse, in Caracas January 23, 2013. REUTERS/Jorge Silva

Supporters of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez attend a rally to commemorate the 55th anniversary of the last Venezuelan dictatorship collapse, in Caracas January 23, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Silva

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SANTIAGO/CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has overcome a respiratory infection, but is still being treated for breathing problems after cancer surgery last month, a government minister said on Saturday.

Official statements have sounded upbeat about the socialist president's condition in recent weeks following rumors he was gravely ill in a hospital in Cuba.

"(Chavez) has overcome the respiratory infection, although he still has a certain degree of respiratory insufficiency," Information Minister Ernesto Villegas told reporters in Chile, where Latin American and European leaders are meeting.

Earlier on Saturday, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Chavez was in his "best moment" since his operation 45 days ago, adding the president had made important economic decisions to strengthen exports.

"He's got a smile that's filled with light, his thoughts are illuminated," Maduro said in televised comments before he left for the summit.

Maduro had just returned from a visit with Chavez, who has not been seen in public since undergoing his fourth and most complex surgery to treat the illness that is jeopardizing his 14-year rule.

Maduro's comments about economic policy came as speculation swirled that Venezuela was preparing a devaluation of the bolivar currency that would improve state finances by providing more bolivars per dollar of oil exports.

Devaluation would make exports more competitive by lowering local production costs, and spur domestic industries by making imports less competitive with local goods.

"We're going to develop our economy's capacity to export," Maduro said.

Business leaders have said for weeks a devaluation is necessary to ease periodic product shortages resulting from a scarcity of dollars.

(Additional reporting by Antonio De La Jara and Helen Popper in Santiago; Editing by Peter Cooney)

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