CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has canceled trips to Argentina and Brazil that would have been his first official visits abroad since he underwent cancer surgery in June, a Brazilian organization said yesterday.
There was no confirmation from Caracas, but the cancellation was sure to stoke speculation about the 57-year-old socialist leader’s health. Chavez has said he is cured after four sessions of chemotherapy, but he has not been seen in public since Tuesday.
He had been due to attend the Dec. 10 swearing-in of Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez for a second term, and then visit Brazil’s former leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was also recently diagnosed with cancer.
Lula’s office said in a statement that Chavez’s trip was suspended “in order to monitor the problems caused by the heavy rains in Venezuela,” which have left thousands homeless.
Venezuelan Interior Minister Tareck El Aissami told state TV that Chavez was taking personal charge of the efforts to help communities affected by the floods.
“President Chavez has ordered the immediate transfer of machinery … to ensure there is no major damage,” he said. Eight Venezuelan states have been declared in a condition of emergency due to this week’s torrential downpours.
The minister showed a document he said was signed by Chavez that increased economic aid for the affected areas.
Chavez’s trip would have been a politically useful show of vigor ahead of his re-election campaign next year.