Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is undergoing chemotherapy after cancer surgery in Cuba more than two months ago and is in “good spirits” in spite of the severity of the treatment, Vice President Nicolas Maduro said.
Chavez is enduring the difficult treatment he is receiving at a military hospital in Caracas, Maduro said. After suffering a respiratory infection in late December that required the insertion of a tracheal tube to aid breathing, Maduro said Chavez’s health began to improve, allowing doctors to begin additional treatments that he said included chemotherapy.
“The treatments President Chavez is doing are difficult, but he has right now a strength superior to what he is receiving and is in good spirits,” Maduro said on state television, after attending a Mass at a chapel in the hospital where Chavez is. From mid-January, “there was a general improvement in the whole clinical picture of his vital organs, of his strength and the doctors and President Chavez decided to begin complementary treatments. Do you know what complementary treatments are? Well, chemotherapy that they apply to patients after operations.”
Aside from photos released last month and Twitter messages posted to Chavez’s account upon arrival, the 58-year-old leader hasn’t been seen in public since traveling to Havana in December for his fourth cancer surgery in 18 months. No images of Chavez’s return to Caracas were broadcast and the government said he isn’t able to speak, fueling speculation among investors that he won’t be able to finish his term in office.
The lack of information about the health of the self-declared socialist who took office in 1999 has sparked rumors in the past week that he’s brain dead or nearing death.
Maduro said yesterday that foreign media and “criminal groups” in Miami that, he says, are led by former top U.S. diplomats to the region, are funding a campaign to destabilize Venezuela as Chavez languishes in a hospital bed.
Opposition groups in Venezuela also have sought to create disturbances by encouraging people to loot shops in Caracas, Maduro said, without providing more details.
In order to receive chemotherapy a patient has to be in reasonable shape to withstand the treatment, though Chavez is probably receiving palliative care to improve his quality of life rather than to cure the disease, said Sunil Daryanani, a Caracas-based oncologist. The treatment often is applied to appease worried relatives, he said.
“If someone’s on chemotherapy, that person should be in relatively stable condition,” Daryanani said in a phone interview. “In the case of Chavez, this would be second-line treatment, having had first-line chemotherapy a year and a half ago. Palliative treatment tries to hold off the disease for as long as possible, though the first intention is for quality of life.”
While announcing Dec. 8 that he required further surgery to treat his cancer, Chavez anointed Maduro as his successor and called on Venezuelans to vote for the former bus driver and union leader in the event that he didn’t survive the operation. Under Venezuela’s constitution, if Chavez dies or steps down an election must be held within 30 days.
“Given the delicate state of his health, the death of Chavez in coming hours, days or weeks appears to be an increasing possibility,” Diego Moya-Ocampos, a political risk analyst at IHS Global Insight Inc in London, said today in an e-mailed note to clients. “The test now is how long the administration can justify its tenure without further legal ratification and before other political actors from Chavismo, the opposition and military come forward demanding that the Constitution is respected and for elections to take place.”
Chavez’s opponent in October’s election, Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, said yesterday that Maduro is lying about Chavez’s health, including that his ministers held a five-hour meeting with him Feb. 22.
“Maduro has repeatedly deceived the president’s followers and Venezuelans over the real situation of the president,” Capriles said in a Twitter message. “Let’s see how they explain in the next few days the lies they’ve told over the president’s situation.”
Maduro denied the accusations. The government is monitoring Capriles’s movements and knows he has traveled to Colombia, Miami and New York seeking funding and plotting against Venezuela, Maduro said today, saying he could pinpoint the exact street in Manhattan where Capriles could be found at that moment and that he was planning to meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson while there.
“Those who conspire abroad in Colombia, Miami or New York against the Venezuelan people should be very careful in what they do,” Maduro said today. The government wouldn’t hesitate to apply the law, Maduro said.
Chavez first told Venezuelans he had cancer in June 2011 after undergoing surgery in Cuba to drain an abscess from his pelvic area during which he said doctors discovered a baseball-sized tumor in the same area. The tumor was excised in a subsequent operation, Chavez said, without specifying the exact location or type of cancer.
After four bouts of chemotherapy, he returned to Cuba in February 2012 for a third operation after his medical team discovered a second tumor and underwent several rounds of radiation therapy over the following months. In July, he said he was “free, totally free” of illness, echoing words he said in October 2011 after completing chemotherapy treatment.