By Jean-Paul Salamanca ( | First Posted: Jan 04, 2013 01:47 PM EST

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is rumored to be near death after being hospitalized with what government officials say is a respiratory infection. (Photo : Reuters)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez has been hospitalized with what authorities call a "severe" respiratory infection, with rumors circulating that the controversial leader of Venezuela is on his deathbed.

Reuters is reporting that Chávez, 58, hasn't been seen nor heard from in the last three weeks since December, with Venezuelan officials stating that the socialist leader is in a delicate condition after undergoing surgery for the fourth time in 18 months due to a cancer found in his pelvic region.

Sources at the hospital where Chávez is currently located at are telling reporters that Chávez is showing "very weak" vital signs and that doctors could decide to switch off the machines "at any moment."

A statement delivered on Thursday from Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said the government had "full confidence" in Chávez's medical team.

"The infection has caused a situation of breathing insufficiency that has required Chávez maintain a strict medical treatment," added an official press release. The Havana Times notes that the official statement did not mention if Chávez was on any life support equipment.

Villegas also warned that global media outlets were using Chávez's illness in a "psychological warfare" campaign to "destabilize the republic."

Chávez, who is due to be sworn into office Jan. 10, underwent surgery in Cuba last month.

With the news of Chávez's possibly mortal state, some in Venezuela, such as the opposing Democratic Unity coalition leader Ramon Aveledo are demanding answers on what the Venezuelan leader's condition is, and have criticized the government for keeping a tight lid on that information.

"The official version (of Chavez\'s health) hides more information than it gives," Aveledo said at a press conference. "The vice president himself has promised to tell the truth, whatever it is. Fine, he should tell it. He should tell the whole truth."

Meanwhile, in the U.S., some Venezuelans with ties to their mother nation are hoping that the recent news could bring about new elections in Venezuela, although that hope is also met with skepticism.

"It's traumatic to all Venezuelans," Sollami Gilda, 22, who left the country five years ago, told Fox News Latino.

A large number of the roughly 189,000 immigrants from Venezuela in the U.S. left the country for several reasons, including disagreement with Chávez's socialist policies, rising violence or a better economic opportunity.

In the event that Chávez would step down or die in office, the chairman of the National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, would succeed Chávez as president while new elections take place. Vice President, Nicolás Maduro, would be the Chávist candidate.

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