Doctors: Venezuela's Chavez in optimal health

AP News

10/22/2011 5:03:49 PM - AP News

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is in optimal health after undergoing cancer treatment, doctors on his medical team said Saturday.

The Venezuelan doctors spoke out to dispute a surgeon's remarks about Chavez's condition. Dr. Salvador Navarrete was quoted as saying in a recent interview with a Mexican magazine that he believed the president's prognosis "is not good" and that the life expectancy in such cases can be as little as two years.

Dr. Fidel Ramirez, one of Chavez's doctors, read a statement at a televised news conference Saturday saying Chavez had never been a patient of Navarrete. The doctors questioned the surgeon's ethics, saying he is wrong and doesn't have access to Chavez's medical information.

Ramirez said Chavez's health is "absolutely satisfactory, with an excellent prognosis."

Dr. Rafael Vargas, another Chavez doctor, said Navarrete's only contact with the president came in 2002 when he was part of a group of doctors who had an "informal conversation" with the president. He called Navarrete's comments irresponsible.

Navarrete didn't respond to requests this week to elaborate on his comments in the interview, and wasn't available at his medical offices in recent days.

In a letter attributed to Navarrete and published Friday in the opposition newspaper Tal Cual, the surgeon said he had left Venezuela with his family after his remarks were published. He wrote that he met with the chief of the government's national intelligence agency before abruptly deciding to leave.

Navarrete defended his decision to speak out about Chavez's health, but said some of his comments were being misinterpreted. He said his "analysis of the president's current condition is based on the official information that in some cases has been provided by the president."

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba in June to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. From July to September, he received four rounds of chemotherapy, both in Cuba and in Venezuela, and he said on Thursday that tests show he is cancer-free.

The 57-year-old leader has not said where the tumor was located or revealed the type of cancer with which he was diagnosed. He has said he expects to undergo regular exams to make sure the illness does not reappear.

Ramirez, who is a brother of Chavez's close confidant and oil minister, Rafael Ramirez, declined to answer questions about the type of cancer or where the tumor was located.

"I think the wishes of the patient must be respected," Ramirez said at the news conference. "The president has a cancer that was located in the pelvic region. It was treated successfully and in time, and I think that's sufficient for everyone."

"He's in perfect health," the doctor added.

It was the first time Chavez's doctors have publicly made such remarks about his condition. His medical team previously remained largely in the background and let the president provide his own health updates.

Chavez has said his medical team includes both Venezuelan and Cuban doctors, and he credits ally and mentor Fidel Castro with ensuring that he received proper and quick treatment in Cuba.

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Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap