Venezuela's Chavez needs more cancer surgery
- Published: 9/12/2012 at 10:46 AM
- Online news:
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was poised to head to Cuba Sunday for more cancer surgery, after speaking for the first time of a successor in this oil-rich nation he so thoroughly dominates should he not recover.
This photo, provided by the Presidencia, shows Venezuala's President Hugo Chavez kissing a crucifix as he sits with ministers during a televised radio interview in Caracas, on December 8. Chavez was poised to return to Cuba on Sunday for more cancer treatment, having spoken for the first time of giving up power if his condition worsens or he dies.
Chavez, 58, won another six-year term just two months ago and had said he was cancer-free after being diagnosed last year and treated. But he dramatically announced late Saturday that malignant cells had returned and that he needed more surgery.
Treatment is "absolutely necessary," the leftist leader said in a bombshell statement on state television in which he admitted he may have to give up the presidency and that Vice President Nicolas Maduro is his chosen successor. This was a move analysts saw as the first step of a political transition in the country that boasts the world's largest proven oil reserves.
The designation of an heir apparent in the event that "something happened" to him underlined the seriousness of Chavez's condition, which he said was causing his strong pain and required him to take tranquilizers.
In power since 1999, the political firebrand and outspoken foe of the United States has made repeated trips to communist Cuba for cancer treatment since his diagnosis.
Over the past year and a half, Chavez has missed practically every regional meeting he was to have attended, such as the Summit of the Americas in Colombia, the Mercosur summit in Brazil and last month's Ibero-American summit.
He returned Friday after a 10-day stay in Cuba, during which his medical team stressed a sense of urgency about the looming operation, his fourth since mid 2011.
"The doctor recommended that I undergo surgery yesterday (Friday) at the latest, or this weekend," he noted. "But I did not agree and came back home."
In what appeared like a presentation of his final will, the once-omnipresent leader, who had not been seen in public for three weeks, urged Venezuelans to vote for Maduro in the next presidential poll should he become incapacitated.
"Choose Maduro as president of the republic," Chavez said. "I am asking you this from all my heart."
Maduro, who has been serving as Venezuela's foreign minister for the past six years, was appointed vice president in the wake of October's presidential poll. He has since held both portfolios.
Chavez "started the transition" with his announcement Saturday, said Luis Vicente Leon of the Datanalisis institute.
Maduro "is a popular man and politically attractive because he belongs to a moderate wing ... he is a public speaker and he is young," he added.
The 49-year-old former bus driver who began his political career in the labor movement belongs to the more moderate wing of the Chavez entourage.
The radical wing is led by Diosdado Cabello, who, along with Chavez, took part in a failed 1992 military coup, and now presides over the National Assembly.
Paving the way for his departure, the National Assembly on Sunday granted Chavez permission to travel to Cuba and, in another possible indication of the seriousness of the matter, leave the country for an indefinite amount of time.
The opposition slammed the secrecy surrounding Chavez's condition.
"We've been hearing all these months the line that the president has been cured and now he has this relapse," said opposition lawmaker Julio Borges.
Under the Venezuelan constitution, if a new president is incapacitated before inauguration -- scheduled for January 10 -- fresh elections must be called in 30 days. The parliamentary speaker must then take charge until a new president is elected.
If incapacitation or death occur after the inauguration but in the first four years of a term, the vice president takes over and governs until an early election determines a new leader.
Exactly what type of cancer Chavez has remains a mystery since the longtime leader has handled his illness as a state secret.
Prior to Saturday's announcement, he had repeatedly claimed to have beaten an unspecified cancer in his pelvic region, diagnosed in 2011, and shrugged off his illness to see off a unified opposition and win power again.
Still, recurring bouts of the disease have dogged his presidency, requiring him to spend weeks at a time in Cuba.
During his most recent visit, doctors "again detected some malignant cells in the same area as before," Chavez said Saturday.
Cuba's official newspaper Granma reported last week that Chavez's treatment consisted of hyperbaric oxygenation -- spending repeated periods of time in a sealed chamber with pure oxygen.
The American Cancer Society says there is no evidence that this oxygen treatment -- in which a patient gets inside a pressurized chamber and breathes pure oxygen for an hour -- works against cancer.
But the society also says it can serve as treatment for ailments stemming from radiation treatment.
Venezuelans reacted with shock and empathy to the news.
"I hope he will get better and continue the revolutionary process," said Luis Pinto, a 61-year-old lawyer and teacher.
Bolivian President Evo Morales sent well wishes to his counterpart.
"This new battle for life will also be won," he said.
Chavez appeared weak and subdued during the presidential campaign, but still managed to win another term that extends to 2019.
About the author
- Writer: AFP
Position: News agency