Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said he hopes to return home March 29 after traveling to Cuba last night to begin radiation therapy for cancer that is hampering his re-election chances.
Chavez, in a phone call to Venezuelan state television, said he was feeling fine after arriving to Havana around midnight and immediately undergoing the first of five planned radiation sessions in the coming days.
“This is part of my job, my life, which is no longer mine but belongs to the people,” Chavez said. “Part of my job is to forcefully take on this task of conquering troubles to keep on living and continuing to triumph in preparation for the great battle of October 7,” he said, referring to the upcoming vote.
Chavez’s surprise return to Cuba, where last month he had a second malignant tumor removed from the same pelvic area he was operated on in June, coincides with a rare visit to the communist island by Pope Benedict XVI.
Chavez, who started attending Mass more frequently and asking God for help as his health worsened, may meet privately with the pontiff, Nelson Bocaranda, a journalist who frequently breaks news on the president’s health in absence of details from the government, wrote today on his blog. Father Federico Lombardi, a Vatican spokesman, said no meeting is planned.
Before departing on the previously unannounced trip, Chavez said he’ll shuttle between Havana and Caracas while he undergoes radiation over the next four to five weeks. Doctors this week removed the final stitches from his last operation Feb. 26, he said.
“We are intent on my full recovery from this disease that caught me off guard, as they say, so I can move forward and continue together with all of you,” Chavez, 57, said last night from the presidential palace, with flowers and a bust of his hero, South American liberator Simon Bolivar, in the background. “My recovery has been fast, progressive.”
While the former tank commander says he’s fit enough to win another six-year term, his treatment of the undisclosed form of cancer as a state secret has fueled speculation his health is worse than he’s letting on.
Venezuelan bonds have rallied this year, returning 20 percent year-to-date -- more than every country except the Ivory Coast -- as investors see an increased probability of a regime change that may reverse policies that have fueled inflation of more than 20 percent and dried up foreign investment.
The yield on Venezuela’s 9.25 percent benchmark bonds due in 2027 has fallen 267 basis points this year to 10.76 percent, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.
Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski moved into a statistical tie with Chavez during the leader’s three-week convalescence this month after surgery in Cuba, according to a poll. Chavez was supported by 46 percent of those surveyed in the poll by Caracas-based Consultores 21 taken between March 3 and March 13, while Capriles had 45 percent. The poll of 2,000 people had a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points, Consultores 21 Vice President Saul Cabrera said in an interview.
“This body has reacted well, pushed on by love for the people, that collective love so large that it urges me on to continue fighting for life, our life, our homeland,” Chavez said last night at the Caracas airport as he prepared to depart. “I’m right there across the Caribbean with my faculties fully intact to continue governing the country and continue commanding my beloved armed forces.”
----With assistance from Flavia Krause-Jackson in New York. Editors: Joshua Goodman
To contact the reporter on this story: Jose Orozco in Caracas at email@example.com
To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at firstname.lastname@example.orgVenezuelan President Hugo Chavez salutes to supporters from a balcony of the presidential palace in Caracas on March 17, 2012. Photographer: Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images