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(Updates with Chavez comments starting in second paragraph.)
Dec. 9 (Bloomberg) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he canceled a trip to Argentina and Brazil to deal with the heavy rains hitting the South American country.
“Fortunately, I’m fine, my recovery continues,” Chavez said by telephone in comments carried on state television. “The trip was suspended because of the reasons I gave. The meteorological prognosis indicates that the situation continues to be unstable. It may continue raining.”
Chavez was expected to attend Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner’s inauguration tomorrow and then travel to Sao Paulo. It was to be his first trip outside of Venezuela since returning from Cuba Oct. 20 and declaring himself cured of cancer.
Chavez canceled the trip to oversee the government’s response to the flooding, a spokesman for former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva said earlier today.
“We were told Chavez isn’t coming anymore because of the rains in Venezuela,” Jose Crispiniano, a spokesman for Lula, said in a telephone interview. “It has nothing to do with his illness.” Chavez was to meet have met with Lula.
A columnist for the Caracas-based newspaper El Universal also reported today that Chavez would stay behind in Venezuela, though a spokesman for the Information Ministry said he didn’t have any information regarding the president’s travel plans.
Venezuela canceled classes this week and the government extended for 90 days a state of emergency in several parts of the country, where hundreds have been evacuated due to heavy rains. Last December, torrential rains killed more than 35 people and left 130,000 in government shelters.
“The first thing that comes to mind is that Chavez is trying to take care of his health,” Elsa Cardozo, a professor of international relations at the Universidad Central de Venezuela, said in a telephone interview. “The current rains don’t compare to the disaster from last year.”
Interior Minister Tarek El-Aissami said today that while it hasn’t rained in 24 hours in Venezuela, there are eight confirmed deaths.
Chavez last appeared in public on Dec. 6 when he held a news conference with the international media and spoke for almost three hours. He hosted a regional summit on Dec. 2 and Dec. 3 in Caracas to create the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, an economic and political bloc similar to the Organization of American States without the U.S. or Canada.
Chavez, who was diagnosed with an undisclosed type of cancer in June and had a baseball-size tumor removed in Cuba, has expressed solidarity with Lula, who is receiving treatment for throat cancer.
The 57-year-old former paratrooper has said that he expects to hold a summit of Latin American leaders who have defeated cancer along with Paraguay’s Fernando Lugo and current Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff.
--With assistance from Corina Pons and Jose Orozco in Caracas. Editors: Joshua Goodman, Sylvia Wier
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