Venezuelans marched in Caracas yesterday, demanding more information on President Hugo Chavez’s health after the government said he’s undergoing chemotherapy following cancer surgery.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who has been running the country in the self-declared socialist’s absence, said March 1 that Chavez is undergoing chemotherapy after surgery for an undisclosed type of cancer in Cuba more than two months ago. Maduro said Chavez is in “good spirits,” in spite of the severity of the treatment.
Hundreds gathered on the street outside the Supreme Court’s offices to support a sit-down protest. About 50 students since Feb. 26 have been demanding to meet with judges who ruled in January that Chavez could skip his own swearing-in ceremony for a new term as he recovers.
“We’re tired of these lies and of Chavez playing hide-and- seek,” Franklin Gomez, a student taking part in the protest, said in comments carried on Globovision. “We want to see him. Where is he?”
Aside from photos released last month and Twitter messages posted to Chavez’s account after he made a surprise return to Venezuela Feb. 18, the 58-year-old leader hasn’t been seen in public since traveling to Havana Dec. 10. No images of Chavez’s return to Caracas were broadcast and the government said he isn’t able to speak after a respiratory infection required the insertion of a tracheal tube to aid breathing, fueling speculation that he won’t be able to finish his term in office.
Hundreds of supporters of Chavez also held an event in Caracas yesterday.
“The treatments President Chavez is doing are difficult, but he has right now a strength superior to what he is receiving and is in good spirits,” Maduro said March 1 on state television. From mid-January, “there was a general improvement in the whole clinical picture of his vital organs, of his strength and the doctors and President Chavez decided to begin complementary treatments. Do you know what complementary treatments are? Well, chemotherapy that they apply to patients after operations.”
Alfonso Henriquez, 67, said he attended the march to support the students’ demands for more transparency on Chavez’s health.
“I don’t believe in Maduro’s information,” he said. “One day he says he was in five-hour meeting with Chavez, the next that he’s getting chemotherapy. They need to say once and for all if Chavez is in condition to govern.”
Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said today the protesting students are being used by Chavez’s opponents to invent “histrionic scenarios.”
“How would we dare to lie about President Chavez’s state of health?” Villegas said in comments broadcast on state television. “You know very well that a patient’s state can vary - there are ups and downs. There can be sudden improvements and deteriorations.”
In order to receive chemotherapy a patient has to be in reasonable shape to withstand the treatment, though Chavez is probably receiving palliative care to improve his quality of life rather than to cure the disease, said Sunil Daryanani, a Caracas-based oncologist.
“If someone’s on chemotherapy, that person should be in relatively stable condition,” Daryanani said in a phone interview. “In the case of Chavez, this would be second-line treatment, having had first-line chemotherapy a year and a half ago. Palliative treatment tries to hold off the disease for as long as possible, though the first intention is for quality of life.”
While announcing Dec. 8 that he required further surgery to treat his cancer, Chavez anointed Maduro as his successor and called on Venezuelans to vote for the former bus driver and union leader in the event that he didn’t survive the operation.
Under Venezuela’s constitution, if Chavez dies or steps down an election must be held within 30 days.
Miranda state Governor Henrique Capriles Radonski, who was defeated by Chavez in an election Oct. 7, said March 1 that Maduro is lying about Chavez’s health, including that his ministers held a five-hour meeting with Chavez Feb. 22.
“Maduro has repeatedly deceived the president’s followers and Venezuelans over the real situation of the president,” Capriles said in a Twitter message. “Let’s see how they explain in the next few days the lies they’ve told over the president’s situation.” Maduro denied the accusations.
The government is monitoring Capriles’s movements and knows he has traveled to Colombia, Miami and New York seeking funding and plotting against Venezuela, Maduro said, adding that he could pinpoint the exact street in Manhattan where Capriles could be found at that moment. Capriles is planning to meet with U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs Roberta Jacobson while there, Maduro said.
“Those who conspire abroad in Colombia, Miami or New York against the Venezuelan people should be very careful in what they do,” Maduro said. The government wouldn’t hesitate to apply the law, Maduro said.
Chavez first told Venezuelans he had cancer in June 2011 after undergoing surgery in Cuba to drain an abscess from his pelvic area during which he said doctors discovered a baseball- sized tumor in the same area. The tumor was excised in a subsequent operation, Chavez said, without specifying the exact location or type of cancer.
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