Venezuela’s Chavez says he was treated for cancer

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s flamboyant  socialist leader Hugo Chavez said yesterday he had undergone  a successful operation in Cuba to remove cancerous cells from a  tumor and was on the road to full recovery.

The 56-year-old president looked grave and emotional in his  first speech to the nation since surgery in Havana on June 10  that confirmed speculation he may have something serious.

“They confirmed the existence of a tumorous abscess, with  the presence of cancerous cells, which required another  operation to extract the tumor completely,” he said, standing  at a lectern by a Venezuelan flag and a painting of South  American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

“I deeply appreciate the demonstrations of solidarity by  Venezuelans and other brotherly people.”

Chavez gave no indication of when he would return to  Venezuela and did not name a temporary substitute to lead the  South American OPEC member nation of 29 million people.

Analysts say his prolonged absence could prompt infighting  among his allies — none of whom possess Chavez’s charisma or  national appeal — and possibly bring calls for an early  election by opposition parties gearing up for a 2012 poll.

Until Thursday, the official line had been that he was  recovering well from an operation to remove a pelvic abscess  and would return soon.

MINISTERS PLEDGE UNITY

Inheriting former Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s  mantle as Washington’s main irritant in Latin America, Chavez  has become one of the world’s most well known leaders during  his 12 years in power.

Chavez supporters reacted to his speech with disbelief but  vows of solidarity.

“My comandante doesn’t have cancer. It can’t be true. He is  the best president we have had, a strong man. He is not ill,”  said Santiago Valledare, a driver watching the speech and  saluting the screen on a TV in a Caracas bar.

Chavez’s ministers gave a joint appearance minutes after  his speech ended, pledging to deepen his wide-reaching  socialist reforms even in his absence and saying the government  would remain united.

“This is not the time to go backward, it’s time to  advance,” Vice-President Elias Jaua said.

Chavez’s appearance followed the release of a video on  Wednesday of him walking and chatting with Castro, his friend  and mentor.

“For now and forever we will live and we will conquer.  Until my return,” Chavez said, ending his speech.

His government has canceled a July 5-6 summit coinciding  with Venezuela’s 200th anniversary of independence. That was a  heavy blow for supporters who wanted the charismatic but  authoritarian president — who loves to grandstand at such big  events — back home in time for the national party.

“Uncertainty is now intensifying in Venezuela,” said Diego  Moya-Ocampos, a Venezuelan analyst at IHS Global Insight.

“A prolonged absence by Chavez could encourage a likely  political crisis of unprecedented levels.”

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