Venezuela President Hugo Chávez suffered bleeding during his cancer surgery in Cuba but was recovering from the complications, Venezuelan officials said Thursday, as the nation prepares for the possible death of their leader.

Chávez suffered "bleeding that required the use of corrective measures" during Tuesday's surgery, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said, reading a government statement. It said those measures allowed for the "opportune control" of the bleeding.

Villegas also said that Chávez was going through "a progressive and favorable recovery of the normal values of his vital signs."

"This recovery process, nevertheless, will require a prudent period of time as a consequence of the complexity of the surgery performed," he said.

Villegas expressed hope a day earlier about the president returning home for his Jan. 10 swearing-in for a new six-year term, but said in a written message on a government website that if Chávez doesn't make it, "our people should be prepared to understand it."

Chávez underwent his fourth cancer-related operation in Havana after announcing that tests had found the illness had come back despite previous operations, chemotherapy and radiation treatments. Chávez has kept secret some details about the pelvic cancer, including the type and location of the tumors that have been removed.

The overtly enthusiastic and loyal confidants of Chávez have perhaps never been more grim about their leader's health.

Chávez is in "stable condition" in Cuba following his fourth cancer surgery in a year and a half.  He has also undergone months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments. 

Villegas said it would be irresponsible to hide news about the "delicateness of the current moment and the days to come." He asked Venezuelans to see Chávez's condition as "when we have a sick father, in a delicate situation."

Moving to prepare the public for the possibility of more bad news, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Chavez's likely successor, looked grim when he acknowledged that Chávez faced a "complex and hard" process after his latest surgery.

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At the same time, officials sought to show a united front amid the growing worries about Chávez's health and Venezuela's future. Key leaders of Chávez's party and military officers appeared together on television as Maduro gave updates on Chávez's condition.

"We're more united than ever," said Maduro, who was flanked by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez, both key members of Chávez's inner circle. "We're united in loyalty to Chávez."

Reporting by the Associated Press.

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