July 16 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he’ll return to Cuba today to receive chemotherapy, ending rumors he was considering Brazil as an alternative venue for cancer treatment.
“I’m going to begin the second stage of this slow and complex process of recuperation,” Chavez, 56, said yesterday on state television. “The second stage will start with chemotherapy that has already been planned in scientific detail.”
Chavez, who has led South America’s largest oil producer since 1999, was operated on June 20 in Cuba for an undisclosed form of cancer after an initial operation to remove a pelvic abscess on June 11. The self-declared socialist said July 13 that doctors removed a baseball-sized tumor from his pelvic area. Chavez said modern technology will allow him to continue to lead his government from Cuba.
“We live in another world - of so many communicational revolutions - and they talk of the global village,” Chavez said today. “Some of those spokesmen of the right think we’re in the Venezuela of the 16th century and that I’m going to get on a sailboat and spend five days getting to Havana without being able to communicate.”
Congress voted unanimously today to approve Chavez’s plan to depart for Cuba at 3:30 pm New York time.
The president’s announcement quashes reports that he would go to Brazil for treatment after an offer by Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff, who herself was treated for a lymphoma in 2009 at a hospital in Sao Paulo.
Cuba was chosen over Brazil because it will be easier for Chavez to keep his exact prognosis a secret, said Jose Vicente Carrasquero, a political analyst at the Central University of Venezuela in Caracas.
“In Brazil, it would be very difficult to keep people in the dark about what’s going on because public opinion would demand answers and the Brazilian media would investigate,” Carrasquero said in a phone interview. “In Cuba, the president’s health will be handled like a state secret.”
Chavez and his government have repeatedly rejected opposition demands that he hand over power temporarily to Vice President Elias Jaua while he undergoes treatment. The opposition’s push for a political transition on the premise that he’s “finished” due to cancer will fail, the president said July 14.
“The opposition is pushing for a transition and saying that Chavez is finished, that he’s chopped up into 20 pieces,” Chavez said. “The only transition here is from capitalism to socialism.”
The Venezuelan constitution is vague about the legality of a president absenting himself from duties while he seeks medical treatment abroad, said Carrasquero. Chavez is unlikely to cede power unless his health deteriorates significantly, he said.
“The president has never left a delegate behind and he’s not going to do it now,” Carrasquero said. “He considers it a weakness to leave someone in charge.”
Hiram Gaviria, an opposition lawmaker, said that while Chavez’s opponents in the National Assembly will vote today in favor of granting him leave to seek treatment in Cuba, Venezuelan law demands that the president cede power to Jaua while out of the country.
“The constitution says that during the president’s absence no legislation can be done from Cuba, it must be done in Venezuela, and the vice president must be in charge, who from today holds the power of head of state,” Gaviria said in comments carried on state television.
Patients are treated with chemotherapy or radiation even after a tumor is successfully removed to prevent the cancer from recurring, said Jeffrey Meyerhardt, a gastrointestinal oncologist at the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston.
While radiation is sometimes easier to tolerate than chemotherapy when targeted to specific areas of the body, both cause fatigue and nausea. Even so, many patients in high profile jobs are able to work full time through treatment sessions that can last several weeks, Meyerhardt said.
Chavez’s health problems have overshadowed the economic challenges he faces to secure re-election, which include the highest inflation rate in the hemisphere, food shortages, violent crime and a housing shortage of more than 2 million units.
The yield on Venezuela’s 9.25 percent benchmark bond due in 2027 has fallen 82 basis points, or 0.82 percentage points, to 12.98 percent since June 13, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The price has risen 4.24 cents on the dollar to 75.025 cents.
The cost of protecting Venezuelan debt against non-payment for five years with credit-default swaps has fallen 135 basis points to 994 yesterday in that same period, according to data compiled by CMA in New York.
Before his health crisis, the president hosted his own television show most Sundays that lasted up to seven hours without commercial breaks and sometimes featured spontaneous expropriations of businesses after followers complained of exploitation.
His improvised speeches have ranged over philosophy, baseball and diatribes against the U.S. “empire.”
Now the former paratrooper has altered what he described as a “lifestyle of death” and is waking up at 5 a.m. to undergo rehabilitation with his team of doctors, take medical exams and return to bed early. Chavez said he has cut down his coffee intake from 40 cups a day to just one or two cups and has taken up painting again to relax.
“I have faith in God, medical science and our Cuban and Venezuelan doctors and finally in my own will to live -- to live for my people, for my daughters and grandchildren and myself -- that we will continue along the path to recovery,” he said.
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