Rare health bulletin on cancer-stricken Hugo Chavez leaves doubt

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Picture: AP
Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez. Picture: AP
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Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez continues to recover in hospital and is mobile again after cancer surgery in Cuba, his vice-president has said, in the first official confirmation from the government of contact with the country’s leader since his operation earlier this month.

Nicolas Maduro said late on Monday night that he had spoken by telephone with Mr Chavez. Officials in the South American country have given few specifics on the president’s condition, and have yet to offer information on his long-term prognosis.

Mr Maduro’s surprise announcement came after Mr Chavez’s ally, Bolivian president Evo Morales, made a quick visit to Cuba, a move that added to the uncertainty surrounding the Venezuelan leader’s condition.

Mr Maduro said the president was walking and doing some recovery exercises. He added that Mr Chavez had given him guidance on budgetary matters for 2013. “He was in a good mood,” Mr Maduro said. “He was walking, he was exercising.”

Mr Morales was largely silent on the details of his trip on Monday and refused to say whether he met with Mr Chavez.

Journalists had been summoned to cover his arrival and departure, but hours later that invitation was withdrawn.

No explanation was given – although it could have been due to confusion over Mr Morales’ itinerary, as he apparently arrived later than scheduled.

The visits underscore Mr Chavez’s importance to regional allies as a prominent voice of the Latin American left, as well as how seriously they are taking his latest battle with cancer.

Mr Chavez underwent his fourth cancer-related operation of the past 18 months on 11 December, two months after winning re-election to a six-year term. He was treated for a respiratory infection apparently due to the surgery.

If Mr Chavez is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan constitution calls for new elections to be held. Mr Chavez has asked his followers to back Mr Maduro, his hand-picked successor, in that event.

Luis Vicente Leon, who heads the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis, said the government’s daily but vague updates on the president’s health seem designed to calm anxious Chavez supporters rather than keep the country fully informed. For government opponents, however, he said the updates likely raised more questions than they answered.