Venezuela's Chavez calls home to squash death rumors

CARACAS Mon Apr 23, 2012 5:59pm EDT

1 of 3. Caracas city Mayor Jorge Rodriguez attends the United Socialist Party weekly news conference in Caracas April 23, 2012. A healthy-sounding President Hugo Chavez called Venezuelan state television from Cuba on Monday to dispel rumours fanned by a nine-day silence that he had died undergoing cancer treatment at a hospital in Havana.

Credit: Reuters/Jorge Silva

Related Topics

Photo

Air strikes in Gaza

Our latest photos from the scene.   Slideshow 

CARACAS (Reuters) - A healthy-sounding President Hugo Chavez called Venezuelan state television from Cuba on Monday to dispel rumors fanned by a nine-day silence that he had died undergoing cancer treatment at a hospital in Havana.

"It seems we will have to become accustomed to live with these rumors, because it is part of the laboratories of psychological war, of dirty war" the 57-year-old socialist leader said in the telephone call.

Since leaving for Cuba on April 14 to undergo radiation treatment for an undisclosed cancer, Chavez had only addressed Venezuelans by short messages on Twitter to cheer supporters and hail the advances of his socialist "revolution."

In the absence of photos or video footage from the tightly controlled island, Chavez's unusually long silence had stirred speculation about his health and doubts over his condition as he campaigns for re-election in an October 7 vote.

Chavez said the cancer therapy was "hard" and he needed to rest, but that he was recovering and planned to return to Caracas on Thursday - although he would need another radiation session.

"Some people would like to see me leave here sprinting ... not yet, let me recover. I have to rest and look after my diet, the treatment and the hours I keep," Chavez said. "These rumors sometimes are damaging."

He said the rumors about his health were so strong they even had his mother worried and he had to call her.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles has complained that Chavez was running Venezuela remotely by Twitter from a Havana hospital bed. One of the president's first acts when he returns will be to sign a new labor law that takes effect on May 1.

Chavez's political ally and president of the National Assembly legislature Diosdado Cabello accused the opposition of having a "morbid obsession" with the former soldier's health.

"The truth is that these embittered people don't learn. They've been saying for days that the Comandante died," he said.

"The only thing that is lifeless here is that loser," Cabello added on Twitter, referring to Capriles, the opposition's best hope for ending Chavez's 13 years in power.

'GOVERNING BY TWITTER'

Chavez's opponents have criticized him for keeping the country in the dark about the extent of his illness, raising suspicions that his cancer may have spread from an initial baseball-sized tumor that was removed from his pelvis.

Before leaving for Cuba earlier this month, Chavez acknowledged that radiation therapy was physically tiring and he skipped the Summit of the Americas in Colombia this month on the advice of his doctors.

Despite his cancer, Chavez is seeking a new six-year term at an election that is shaping up to be the toughest political fight of his career due to his ill health and a serious opposition challenge.

"President Chavez seems to be in a paradoxical situation in which he cannot win the election unless he continues his campaign, but, if he continues, the stress could shorten his life expectancy, preventing him from being the final nominee," Barclays Capital said on Monday.

Capriles, a youthful state governor who is the opposition's "unity candidate" to face Chavez, sharply criticized the all-dominant leader for not doing his job properly.

"Governing by Twitter, approving laws by Twitter without consulting anybody, is an insult to our people. The country's problems cannot be resolved by Twitter," Capriles said.

Chavez's government faces potentially embarrassing accusations about links to drug trafficking from a former Supreme Court justice who fled the country and has reportedly become a U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration informant.

Chavez remains very popular among poorer Venezuelans who have benefited from his social programs, which redistribute some of the country's vast oil wealth.

Almost all recent opinion polls have given Chavez a comfortable double-digit lead over Capriles, and his frequent trips to Cuba for treatment appear not to have changed that.

A survey released on Monday by local pollster Hinterlaces showed 53 percent of voters planning to back Chavez in October, versus 34 percent for Capriles, a 1 percentage point gain for the president since a similar poll last month.

(Additional reporting by Diego Ore; Editing by Daniel Wallis)

FILED UNDER:
We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see http://blogs.reuters.com/fulldisclosure/2010/09/27/toward-a-more-thoughtful-conversation-on-stories/
Comments (3)
SokusTrokus wrote:
He’s still alive? Aww, shucks.

Interesting how when Castro or Chavez are silent a few days,
people automatically wonder if one of them is dead.

Apr 23, 2012 4:17pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
quatra wrote:
Chavez, you’re dead already but don’t know it. As a military man you kow that when God’s bullet has your name on it there’s no escape. You took your country to ruin and that’s it.

Apr 23, 2012 5:47pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
Austell wrote:
The masses vs the billionaire media owners….

It’s a tough and ridiculous battle to win your freedom from these nobels, lords and barons of old.

Wipe out the ruling class!

Wipe out the slave owners!!

Wipe out the aristocracy!!!

Apr 23, 2012 7:35pm EDT  --  Report as abuse
This discussion is now closed. We welcome comments on our articles for a limited period after their publication.