Chavez back in charge at Venezuela Cabinet meeting

AP News
Posted: Jul 07, 2011 8:57 PM
Chavez back in charge at Venezuela Cabinet meeting

President Hugo Chavez went back to work Thursday, addressing soldiers at a promotion ceremony and then talking for more than an hour while presiding over a televised Cabinet meeting.

Vowing to beat cancer, Chavez showed no apparent signs of weakness as he spoke to his Cabinet members, who clapped for him as the meeting ended.

"Here is the government, demonstrating what it's capable of," Chavez said during the meeting, which was shown live on state television.

Raising the issue of his cancer diagnosis, Chavez said: "We will win, and we will live."

Chavez also lambasted his political adversaries, suggesting the opposition has no chance of winning next year's presidential election against him.

"You will never again govern the Venezuelan fatherland," he said.

"We're moving toward 2021," Chavez added, referring to the year he's mentioned at times as a tentative moment for his retirement from politics.

He spoke for an hour and a half, his longest speech since he stunned the nation with a June 30 announcement in Cuba that he had undergone surgery to remove a cancerous tumor.

Chavez appeared relaxed and comfortable as he addressed his ministers and reviewed government housing and railway projects.

Chavez met earlier in the day with cadets and other soldiers at Fort Tiuna, Venezuela's largest military base. He spoke at Venezuela's military academy, overseeing the promotion of several hundred soldiers in fatigues standing in formation in a courtyard.

The president scoffed at suggestions by some of his opponents and commentators that he has faked illness, allegedly as part of his re-election strategy.

"I was reading in the morning something crazy that, 'No, it was an invention of Fidel Castro and Chavez,'" Chavez told the soldiers.

"After two operations some have said it's a lie," he added. "If only you saw my abdomen. I'm not going to show you, but they're quite a few stitches."

Chavez's public appearances were his first since Tuesday, when he spoke and met with visiting leaders during Venezuela's bicentennial celebrations.

Chavez told a well-wisher Thursday that he couldn't stay to speak long at the military base.

"I don't have much time, but I give you my heart like always," Chavez said, at times sounding out of breath.

The former lieutenant colonel recalled in his speech to troops that he had been stationed at the base. He then hollered commands to the troops to stand at ease and at attention.

He described his health problems as "very difficult," adding that "I was always a healthy boy, a healthy cadet."

Chavez talked about "the result of this operation that lasted six hours to extract a malignant tumor that was lodged there."

"We'll continue fighting against it. It's a difficult illness, but I promise that we will live and win," Chavez said.

Chavez described scaling back his activities on the orders of his doctors, likely a difficult request for a leader known to speak for hours often late into the night.

The 56-year-old president's health has been a subject of speculation. Chavez returned to Venezuela early Monday but, for the first time in his more than 12 years in power, didn't participate in a military parade, held Tuesday, commemorating the country's declaration of independence.

If anything, Chavez's appearance at the military base reminded Venezuelans of his army roots and his responsibilities as commander in chief.

"We began a transformation here in these grounds, in this hall, in this profound house," he said about his training at the military academy.

He sang along with the troops to a military tune and revealed that he wouldn't be able to join them Friday in a planned parade of youth and the Bolivarian National Militia.

However, he assured the troops, "I am living and now, I am like revived and beginning a new life like a cadet in these grounds 40 years ago with you."

"Thanks to life," he later said, "that has given me so much."

Chavez did not offer details regarding his diagnosis, information that his adversaries have been demanding to determine if he's still fit to govern the country.

"Have courage and say how much time you have left," Henry Ramos, the president of an opposition party, said in a statement Thursday.


Associated Press writer Christopher Toothaker contributed to this report.