Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who recently revealed that he’s receiving treatment for cancer in Cuba, said that the illness will strengthen him and he’s optimistic he’ll return to full health.
Chavez, speaking in a live telephone call to a Cuban television program yesterday for the first time since June 12, said that Fidel Castro, the former Cuban president, detected his frail health. Castro pushed him to remove a cancerous tumor after an operation to drain a pelvic abscess.
“No one expected this illness but I’m optimistic and sure that I’ll emerge from it stronger,” he said. “If it weren’t for Fidel, who knows what labyrinth I’d be in right now.”
Until now, Chavez only had been shown in previously recorded videos and images. Chavez told Venezuelans in a nationally broadcast speech on June 30 that he was operated on twice in Cuba and that he won’t hurry his return during treatment.
The 56-year-old leader, who has run South America’s largest oil producer since 1999, has vowed to keep ruling from Cuba as long as it takes, though his political foes have called on Vice President Elias Jaua to assume his daily activities, citing articles in the constitution. Chavez had announced his intention before the illness to seek a third presidential term next year.
Peanut Butter, Lamb
Earlier yesterday, Venezuelan state television broadcast a 45-minute video from June 29 showing Chavez as his followers have grown accustomed to seeing him over the past decade: making national policy while telling jokes and humming military marches from his days as a paratrooper commander. Accompanying him was his brother, Barinas state Governor Adan Chavez, Foreign Minister Nicholas Maduro and Henry Rangel Silva, head of the nation’s military.
In a bid to project an image of normalcy after weeks of speculation over his health, Chavez told his allies that he’s recovering favorably and is running his nation’s affairs from abroad. He said Fidel Castro checks in on him almost daily, bringing peanut butter and small bits of lamb, while at night he’s reading Friedrich Nietzsche’s “Thus Spoke Zarathustra.”
“I’ve committed mistakes, fundamental mistakes as Nietzsche would say, and I apologize for it,” said Chavez. “Sometimes you get swept up in the passion and forget that you’re just made of flesh and bone and don’t take care of your health.”
Yields on the nation’s benchmark bond plunged yesterday as investors increased bets Chavez may give up a re-election bid, opening the door for a new government that could reverse policies fueling the fastest inflation in the world. Jaua would succeed Chavez if the president resigns or is declared unfit to govern.
With nobody in the government able to match Chavez’s clout with the poor, his hold on power may be challenged if he doesn’t return home soon, said Luis Vicente Leon, director of Caracas-based pollster Datanalisis.
The prospect of Chavez’s prolonged absence may further embolden the opposition, which was strengthened after winning the majority of votes in congressional elections last September. Support for Chavez fell to near the lowest in eight years in March as a 40 percent devaluation of the bolivar and the fastest inflation among 78 countries, tracked by Bloomberg, erode the purchasing power of his working-class base.
“There is no chavismo without Chavez,” said Boris Segura, a Latin America strategist at Nomura Securities International Inc. in an interview yesterday in Caracas. “He hasn’t groomed a successor on purpose because this is a one-man project.”
The Venezuelan leader may have colon cancer that would require chemotherapy for at least six months to a year, Ramon Baeza, an oncologist with the IRAM cancer clinic in Santiago, Chile, said in a phone interview.
“It’s a common cancer in his age range,” said Baeza, who has no connection to the case and said he can’t give a medical opinion based on the information available. Chavez’s chances of recovery could be low depending on whether the abscess ruptured and if the cancer spread to the rest of the abdomen, he said.
The self-declared revolutionary socialist said yesterday that he’s received support from regional leaders, including cancer survivors Fernando Lugo of Paraguay and Brazil’s Dilma Rousseff.
Leaders of the opposition have criticized the government’s handling of the political crisis though have also gone to lengths to wish Chavez a speedy recovery.
“Chavez is still the head of state, but he can’t run the government’s daily affairs,” said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, executive secretary of the Democratic Unity Table alliance. “The government isn’t functioning normally and they know it.”
Chavez, who canceled a July 5 summit with Latin American and Caribbean leaders on Margarita Island due to his health, said that he never had any intention of staying in Cuba so long and that his cancer was first detected at the tail end of a regional tour after he arrived on June 8.
“Truly, I was only going to spend two days here,” Chavez said in the live telephone call last night. “I feel as if I were in Venezuela amid my people. Long live Cuba, and long live Fidel.”