Chavez absence at summit raises renewed health questions
Venezuela president resumes radiation treatments in Cuba.
CARACAS, Venezuela, Wednesday April 18, 2012 – On the advice of his doctors, President Hugo Chavez did not attend last weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Colombia. Instead, he went straight to Havana for a new cycle of radiation treatment, raising renewed questions about the severity of his illness.
“Chavez’s decision not to attend the Cartagena summit will only fuel speculation that he is seriously ill. It would have suited him politically to attend. The Colombians wanted him to be there, as did others,” said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.
“For more than a dozen years he has been at the centre of attention at these hemispheric gatherings. His cancer, coupled with political problems at home, constrains his regional and global role,” Shifter added.
Chavez has often used such regional summits as a platform to amplify his criticisms of United States influence and press for his vision of Latin American integration.
In his long-distance contribution this year, Chavez criticized the exclusion of Cuba from the summit and backed Argentina in its longstanding dispute with Britain over the Falkland Islands.
Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez told a crowd of supporters that the radiation therapy sessions have affected his strength, but said “I’m doing well”. The president is running for re-election in October and has vowed to overcome his illness.
Chavez began radiation treatment in March after undergoing surgery in February that removed a second tumour from his pelvic region. Some details of his illness have been kept secret, including the type of cancer and the precise location where tumours have been removed.
Chavez said at the weekend that his stay in Cuba could be lengthy.
“His physical condition isn’t allowing him to do the things he used to do,” said Jose Vicente Carrasquero, a political science professor at Venezuela’s Simon Bolivar University. He added that Chavez’s illness is clearly limiting his international role.
Carrasquero pointed out that Chavez’s absence also raises questions about whether he’ll be able to make it through the presidential campaign. “What we’re watching for is when Chavez is going to announce that he’s not going to run,” he said.