Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 30 August 2014

Chavez defiant ahead of cancer op

Hugo Chavez attends an event event honouring him at the Teresa Carreno theatre in Caracas, Venezuela (AP/Fernando Llano)

For someone who is ill, Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez did not show it as he launched into full-blown campaign mode on his last day in the country before flying to Cuba for cancer surgery.

Mr Chavez, who is running for re-election this year, spoke for more than four hours on a folksy, upbeat broadcast, pausing only so supporters could send greetings, messages of encouragement and reports on home construction and new soy plantations from around the country.

At one point, an apple-cheeked boy clad in the red of Mr Chavez's socialist political movement appeared via a video feed from the western city of Maracaibo and recited a poem about the president's illness and how he will overcome it.

Mr Chavez, 57, invoked the revolutionary language of both Cuba and his own country, and vowed to see the campaign through even after revelations of his cancer's comeback cast his health and stamina in doubt.

"I will live! I will live!" cried a bespectacled Mr Chavez, pounding the table in a hall in the Miraflores government palace during the live broadcast from a hall in the Miraflores government palace.

The president took over the national airwaves hours after politicians granted him permission to absent himself from the country while he has a potentially cancerous tumour surgically removed, a formality required by the constitution.

He said he would leave and undergo surgery early next week to remove the growth, described as about an inch in diameter located in the same area where Mr Chavez had a baseball-size malignant tumour taken out last year.

The constitution says the vice president may take the president's place during temporary absences of up to 90 days, and the National Assembly may extend that for 90 days more.

Opposition politicians called for Mr Chavez to put his number two in charge while he is recovering in Cuba, which could take weeks if he stays for radiation therapy like he did last summer. "We can't have what happened last year, the president purporting to govern from Cuba," said Alfonso Marquina, a politician and spokesman for the opposition bloc in the National Assembly. Because in the absence of the president, the government is the vice president."

But Mr Chavez is not naming a substitute and plans to continue making decisions and signing decrees from abroad.

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