Bloomberg News

Chavez Breaks 10-Day Silence, Quashing Death Speculation

April 24, 2012

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez appeared on television for the first time in 10 days in the latest attempt to dispel speculation that his health has deteriorated ahead of elections in October.

Chavez, who is in Cuba for cancer treatment, kissed a crucifix and played a local form of bowls with his ministers and family members in images broadcast on all local television stations. Reading from yesterday’s newspaper, he said he doesn’t need to exert himself to prove he’s fit enough to govern.

“Those who start to spread rumors seem to think that this is a piece of cake,” Chavez said of his treatment in the video recorded in Havana. “This is radiotherapy, just ask anyone who has been through this. Do I need to carry four sacks of cement to show my strength?”

The broadcast was a further attempt to quell speculation in social media that his cancer has spread. Yesterday, he broke a 10-day silence to phone into state television and say he expects to return home April 26. Later, Information Minister Andres Izarra published photos that appear to have been taken at the same time as the video was recorded.

Chavez has missed the Summit of the Americas with President Barack Obama and Venezuela’s Constitution Day celebrations in the past two weeks on doctors’ advice. His battle with cancer has fueled a rally in Venezuelan bonds that have returned 19.6 percent this year, the second most in emerging markets after Ivory Coast, on speculation his weakened health will lead to a change in government and economic policies after an Oct. 7 election.

Carrying On

Chavez said he would continue to attend to his work as he receives treatment and dismissed criticism of his prolonged absence from Venezuela, saying governing from Cuba is legal according to the constitution.

The self-declared socialist, who has undergone three operations since June as part of his treatment, is seeking to extend his 13-year rule until 2019 in October. The government hasn’t disclosed any succession plans in case Chavez isn’t strong enough to participate in the election.

Speaking at a Catholic Mass in his home state of Barinas on April 5, Chavez wiped tears from his face as he pleaded for life in his fight against cancer.

Bond Yields

The yield on Venezuela’s benchmark 9.25 percent bonds due in 2027 rose 4 basis points, or 0.05 percentage point, to 11.24 percent at 12:44 p.m. Caracas time, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. The bond’s price fell 0.29 cent to 85.54 cents on the dollar.

Government officials moved to deny speculation April 22 that Chavez may have died after he was absent from television screens for the longest period since at least November.

Chavez last spoke during an April 13 rally to commemorate the 10th anniversary of an attempted coup that briefly removed him from power. He was last seen alighting from his plane in Cuba in images carried on Venezuelan state television April 14.

While absent from television screens, he maintained a media presence in Venezuela through government statements and by sending several messages from his Twitter account.

Opposition candidate Henrique Capriles Radonski used his own Twitter account to question Chavez’s absence, writing April 22, “the country and the problems of Venezuelans can’t be resolved over Twitter!”

‘Absurd’

Chavez, who intends to return to Cuba for further treatment, said criticism that he’s ruling by Twitter is “absurd” and called for patience as he recuperates.

“It seems some people want me to run the 100-meter dash or go out and play a baseball game right away,” he said. “I want to do those things, but it will take time.”

Chavez was supported by 46 percent of those surveyed in a poll by Caracas-based Consultores 21 taken between March 3 and March 13, while Capriles had 45 percent. The poll used a sample of 2,000 people with a margin of error of 2.3 percentage points.

The former tank commander said yesterday that the wave of rumors had compelled him to phone his mother to calm her worries and that speculation about his health will probably increase as the election nears.

“I have a pact with God,” Chavez said in today’s television images. “I’m sure that God will intervene in this treatment to ensure everything turns out well.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Charlie Devereux in Caracas at cdevereux3@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Joshua Goodman at jgoodman19@bloomberg.net


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