CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez acknowledged for the first time on Wednesday he may need radiotherapy or chemotherapy to treat his cancer, which has rattled the OPEC member nation he has dominated for 12 years.
The 56-year-old socialist leader’s most detailed comments to date on his condition raised the prospect of a lengthy health battle. Such a scenario could undermine Chavez’s ability to govern Venezuela and run for re-election in 2012.
In a lengthy, dawn telephone chat with state TV, an unusually self-reflective Chavez said his operation last month in Cuba had removed a “baseball-size” tumor.
The threat of malignant cells spreading remained “latent” and needed robust treatment, he added.
“It will probably require known methods ... that could be radiotherapy or chemotherapy to hit hard, with the cavalry, whatever latent possibility is there,” Chavez said.
The president said he was undergoing organ-by-organ checks.
“I mustn’t give more details,” he said.
Mystery and rumor have surrounded Chavez’s precise condition since surgery in Cuba last month.
Allies insist he is in a recovery phase, but one source close to his medical team has said he faces long chemotherapy for colon cancer.
Though he has reasserted political control with his return to Venezuela last week and wants to appear strong, the charismatic but authoritarian Chavez is notably paler and more contemplative than usual. Sometimes his walking is awkward.
Famous for hours-long speeches and a punishing work schedule, Chavez said he has to scale back his one-man, micromanaging style. He has no obvious successor.
“I need to learn to delegate, let people show their potential,” he said, giving an example of his past style when he held an impromptu ministerial meeting in a road outside his Miraflores presidential palace to complain about potholes.
Chavez’s condition has upended politics in Venezuela. Analysts say there is plenty of jostling going on among different factions of the ruling Socialist Party in case Chavez deteriorates and needs a replacement. But aides and allies have united behind him in public.
“The president, in his first phase of recovery, is at the highest level, in the best situation - doing his exercises, attending to his work and his family matters,” said Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro in a televised press conference on Wednesday.
Venezuela’s opposition has sought to avoid any sense of triumphalism over the ill health of a man who has outfoxed — and often mistreated — them for 12 years. But they sense a window of opportunity for the 2012 vote.
His often fanatic supporters are praying for his recovery, while the many Venezuelans who hate him with equal passion are quietly hoping he will leave the political stage soon.
In a new report on Venezuela, Moody’s Investors Service said Chavez would certainly run next year if he can. “But ongoing questions over his health could impact his chances of victory against a unified opposition candidate,” it added.
Chavez blamed stress and poor personal habits — such as drinking 40 cups of coffee a day, and carrying three telephones — as a factor contributing to his health problems.
“I was killing myself. ... It was permanent anxiety, sometimes I couldn’t breathe.”
The Venezuelan approvingly quoted his friend and mentor, former Cuban President Fidel Castro, saying: “Chavez cannot be the mayor of all Venezuela.”
Since his July 4 return from Havana, Chavez has nevertheless kept relatively busy meeting aides and attending ceremonies in and around his medical treatment. But he has notably reduced public appearances to stage-managed segments of about half an hour — short by past standards.
Despite treatment planned for later on Wednesday, Chavez said he still planned to watch Venezuela’s soccer game against Paraguay in the regional Copa America tournament.
Images of Chavez watching and cheering Venezuela’s 1-0 victory over Ecuador on TV last weekend have been shown repeatedly on state media in an effort to illustrate him returning to normal life.
Given the absence of precise information about his condition, the country has been awash with speculation — ranging from Chavez’s imminent death to one conspiracy theory the whole affair was made up to earn him sympathy prior to the 2012 vote.
Chavez has laughed off the most extreme versions.
“Neither my colon nor my stomach are chopped into bits, not at all,” he said on Wednesday. “Long live life! We will fight against all types of cancer, those produced by capitalism.”
Additional reporting by Enrique Andres Pretel and Brian Ellsworth; Editing by Cynthia Osterman