Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez is "fighting for his life", according to his former deputy.
The cancer-stricken leader has not been seen in public for more than a month, fuelling growing political uncertainty in the oil-rich country.
"The situation is complex and delicate, but it is true that Hugo Chavez has fought and is fighting for his life," said Elias Jaua, who was in office from January 2010 until October.
However communications minister Ernesto Villegas insisted Mr Chavez was doing better.
"Despite his delicate health state since his complex surgery on December 11, his general health has improved in recent days," Mr Villegas said in a statement read on radio and television.
He said the president's previously disclosed severe pulmonary infection was "under control" but that he still required treatment for "respiratory failure".
Mr Chavez, whose Opec-member nation controls the world's largest proven oil reserves, has been out of sight since leaving for Cuba for the latest round of treatment in the 18 months since his condition was made public.
He was admitted to hospital following his fourth cancer operation last month.
The latest updates followed a denial from Mr Chavez's brother Adan on Saturday that the 58-year-old was in a coma.
Instead, he said the Venezuelan leader was responding "well" to treatment and making progress on a daily basis.
Mr Chavez's anointed heir, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, met with his ailing boss late on Saturday.
On Thursday, the government was forced to postpone the president's scheduled inauguration, as it became clear that Mr Chavez could not attend.
Authorities insist the Venezuelan constitution allows him to take the oath of office at a later time.
But the opposition has objected, calling for a medical board to review the absent leader's health.
However the demand was rejected by the Supreme Court, which said the delayed swearing-in was constitutional.