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Chavez Misses Obama Summit Confrontation Fueling Cancer Scare

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Daughter Rosa Virginia
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez embraces his daughter Rosa Virginia, at a balcony of Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas on April 13, 2012. Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez pulled out of the Summit of the Americas yesterday for more cancer treatment, giving up a chance to confront U.S. President Barack Obama and signaling his health may be deteriorating.

The South American president, who is facing an election in October, was advised by his doctors not to go to the summit and travelled instead to Cuba for radiation therapy, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said on state T.V.

“This is the sort of event that Chavez normally thrives on, so cancelling is a clear indication of how serious his cancer is,” Greg Weeks, associate professor of political science and director of Latin American studies at the University of North Carolina in Charlotte, wrote in an e-mail. “The summit would have given him a platform to criticize the U.S. on a number of issues such as Cuba and the Falklands/Malvinas, and that is not normally an opportunity he would miss.”

Chavez, 57, who returned to Caracas from Cuba on April 11 after completing the third of five planned radiation treatments, has no official succession plans in case his illness prevents him participating in the October election. Speaking at a Catholic Mass in his home state of Barinas on April 5, Chavez wiped tears from his face as he pleaded for life in his fight against cancer.

Gossip Columnist

Nelson Bocaranda, a journalist who often reports on the president’s health in the absence of official statements, said yesterday on his website that doctors this month in Cuba discovered the cancer has started to affect Chavez’s liver and kidneys. Bocaranda revealed last June that Chavez had cancer five days before the self-declared socialist announced doctors in Cuba had removed a tumor from his pelvic area.

Chavez has declined to give details.

“The treatment has an impact on my body and my physical strength,” Chavez said on April 13 in a nationwide broadcast to mark the 10-year anniversary of a 2002 coup that briefly removed him from power. “The recovery has been positive, the treatment is going well.”

The president, who has undergone three operations since June as part of his treatment, is seeking to recover from the cancer in time to campaign for re-election in a bid to extend his 13-year rule until 2019.

Missed Opportunity

With Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa also boycotting the summit and Nicaragua’s Daniel Ortega deciding not to attend, Obama faced less open confrontation than three years ago, when regional leaders attacked the U.S. history of intervention in the continent. Chavez has criticized the U.S. and Canadian presence at the summit because they oppose Cuba attending the events and haven’t backed Argentina’s efforts to regain the Falkland Islands from the U.K.

“They oppose these issues because they’re part of the old empires,” Chavez said to a crowd of followers outside the presidential palace in Caracas on April 13. “One of the issues that we need to talk about at the summit is Yankee interventionism. How long will this go on for, Mr. Obama?”

The fact he missed an opportunity to confront Obama directly will “only reinforce the perception that he is seriously ill,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue, a policy center in Washington, said in an e-mailed response to questions. “He rarely misses a chance to be the center of attention. The consummate showman, Chavez relishes such situations.”

Open Veins

At the summit in 2009, Chavez handed Obama a Spanish-language copy of Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano’s book “Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of the Pillage of a Continent.” The book attacks the U.S. and Europe for 500 years of exploiting Latin America.

At this year’s meeting, Venezuelan Foreign Affairs Minister Nicolas Maduro said Obama’s advisers keep him ignorant of the reality of the region, and said it was distasteful to Latin Americans that the U.S. president should visit Cartagena.

“Unfortunately, after three years in office he has inherited the cynicism and perversion of his predecessor,” George W. Bush, Maduro said in remarks broadcast on state media.

The only other criticism Obama has received so far is on U.S. monetary policy, which along with monetary expansion in Europe has led to a flow of funds into emerging markets, pushing up their exchange rates and undermining their competitiveness.

The policy is “provoking a real monetary tsunami,” Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff said yesterday. “It’s clear that we have to take measures to defend ourselves. I said defend, not protect. To defend is different, defend means to perceive that we cannot leave our manufacturing sector be cannibalized.”

She called on the developed world to find ways of boosting investment, rather than relying on cheap money to drive demand.


Nicaragua’s President Daniel Ortega didn’t attend the summit yesterday, without giving a reason for his absence. Ecuador’s Correa has said he won’t go in protest at the exclusion of communist Cuba, the region’s sole dictatorship, from the meeting.

Maduro said yesterday in Cartagena that Venezuela wouldn’t attend another Summit of the Americas without Cuba, according to state television. Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos said that Cuba must attend future meetings.

“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, and looking the other way, have shown their ineffectiveness,” Santos said during the opening ceremony of the summit. “In today’s world, this path isn’t justified. It’s an anachronism that they are anchored in a cold war that ended decades ago.”

‘New Era’

Obama says his administration has done more than any in decades to improve relations with Cuba and blamed the communist regime for the nation’s exclusion from this weekend’s hemispheric summit.

“We’re looking for a new era in the relationship between our two countries,” Obama said, according to a transcript of an interview published on April 13 in Spanish by Bogota’s El Tiempo newspaper.

Obama told regional leaders yesterday that the U.S. has “never felt more excited about prospects of working as equal partners with our brothers and sisters in Latin America and the Caribbean.”

The president stressed the need for democracy and the rule of law as elements that pave the way for expanding economies.

To aid the fight against “narco-traffickers and gangs that threaten our people,” Obama promised the U.S. would increase the amount it spends on equipment and training in Mexico, central America and the Caribbean to $130 million this year from $105 million this year.


Venezuela’s National Assembly yesterday approved Chavez’s request to leave the country for treatment, according to state television.

“In the past 340 days, from May, 2010 through April 8, the president has spent 200 days in recovery and 80 days in Cuba,” opposition lawmaker Carlos Berrizbeitia said in Congress. Yet, the president hasn’t given an official report on his health. “Venezuelans are learning about the president’s health from rumors,” he said.

Chavez has remained defiant.

“It would be easier for a horse to go through the eye of a needle than for the opposition to win the elections,” Chavez said on April 13.

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