Venezuela's Chavez upbeat over Cuba cancer checks

Reuters News
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Posted: Oct 18, 2011 10:01 AM
Venezuela's Chavez upbeat over Cuba cancer checks

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's ailing President Hugo Chavez has been sending positive messages from Cuba during cancer checks, while at home allies are fuming at a media report the socialist leader has two years maximum to live.

"We will live and we will conquer!" was one of a stream of Twitter messages the media-savvy, 57-year-old Chavez has sent since flying to Havana at the weekend.

"I've lit a candle and made a promise to Christ and the other saints," he added in another Tweet.

Chavez says the tests will show that after surgery to remove a cancerous tumor in June and then four cycles of chemotherapy, he has no more malignant cells in his body.

But cancer doctors say it is impossible to give anyone a clean bill of health until at least two years after treatment.

Chavez's condition is hugely important in the South American OPEC member nation given that he plans to run for re-election in a year's time.

So far, he has benefited from a sympathy bounce in polls, taking him to an approval rating near 60 percent. Analysts say that may reverse if he is seen as not well enough to run a re-election campaign or rule another six years.

Fueling a stream of rumors over Chavez's exact state, a Venezuelan doctor who has attended him in the past was quoted in a Mexican weekly magazine as saying he had a serious cancer condition -- sarcoma -- in the pelvis.

"The prognosis is not good," Salvador Navarrete told Milenio Semanal in the article (www.msemanal.com/node/4768). "Life expectancy is up to two years."

Reuters could not reach Navarrete to verify his comments, but Chavez allies immediately turned on him.

"NECROPHILIA"

Celia Flores, a political heavyweight in the ruling Socialist Party, accused opponents of a "morbid" obsession with raking over Chavez's health and spreading rumors. "The ultra-right, with their policy of necrophilia, are trying to demoralize the people, but they will not succeed," she said.

Eva Golinger, an American lawyer who is one of Chavez's most prominent international supporters, accused Navarrete of breaching medical ethics and pretending to know details.

"Dr. Navarrete's interview is a sad display of a distinguished doctor gone bitter. Since he's not treating Chavez's actual illness, he's angry, and so he's violated the sacred oath of confidentiality ," she said.

"I think others will continue to come out of the woodwork with some kind of claim to fame regarding President Chavez's health. In the end, those people just want attention."

The Venezuelan leader Tweeted that he was starting a second day of tests on Tuesday in Cuba, where he is guaranteed privacy and hospitality thanks to his strong relationship with the Castro brothers. Former president, Fidel Castro, has been a confidant since long before Chavez came to power in 1999.

While Chavez has given few precise details about his condition, Venezuelans have been speculating furiously.

At one end of the spectrum, some agree with Navarrete's version that the clock is ticking for Chavez, while die-hard supporters say he will soon be 100 percent better and ready to launch his election campaign.

One Venezuelan medical source, who has contacts with the team attending Chavez, told Reuters his condition appears more serious than the president is making out, with Cuban doctors now in complete control of his treatment.

Chavez has shaven his hair during chemotherapy, though said last week it was coming back. Awkwardly for a man who prides himself on an image of physical fitness, Chavez's face has become puffy during treatment.

That, the Venezuelan medical source said, was due to corticosteroids -- a type of steroid hormones -- given him to prevent weight loss during chemotherapy. "The prognoses over his recovery are varied," the source added.

(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga; Editing by Kieran Murray)