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Chavez health concerns delay summit

Venezuela's government has postponed next week's summit of Latin American leaders, citing president Hugo Chavez's health as he recovers from surgery in Cuba.

The decision to put off the July 5-6 meeting until later this year was announced shortly after new videos aired on state television showing Mr Chavez chatting with Fidel Castro in Cuba, appearing lucid and talkative.

Mr Chavez's televised appearance broke a long post-surgery silence that has prompted speculation about his health.

"The president is in the middle of a recuperation process and extremely strict medical treatment," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

As a result, it said, Venezuela consulted with other governments and decided to postpone the gathering of Latin American and Caribbean leaders on Margarita Island.

Mr Chavez had been expected to host the summit on the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's declaration of independence from Spain.

He promoted it as an event to move ahead with the development of a 32-nation regional bloc, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, that excludes the United States and Canada.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said it will work with other countries to schedule a new date for the summit in Venezuela later in the year. It remained unclear how soon Mr Chavez might be able to return home.

Footage of the encounter in Cuba showed Mr Chavez and Mr Castro in a garden chatting amiably about old times and discussing a Cuban newspaper article about school uniforms. It then cut to them seated indoors having an animated conversation.

Mr Chavez has been largely out of sight since the government announced June 10 that he had undergone pelvic surgery. He spoke once in a telephone call to state television two days after the operation, and appeared in photographs alongside both Fidel and Raul Castro that were published on June 18.

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