Chavez starts radiation therapy, may meet Pope

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez said today he had started radiation treatment in Cuba, where he could also meet Pope Benedict in the latest high profile development as the president tries to fight off cancer and win re-election.

Chavez was back in Havana a month after he had surgery there to remove a second malignant tumor from his pelvis. The treatment will take him off the political stage just as his election rival gears up a nationwide campaign tour ahead of the Oct. 7 vote.

In a phone call to Venezuelan state TV, Chavez said he had undergone the first of five sessions of radiation therapy.

“Last night I had the first session, fortunately without any kind of problems. Early tonight I’ll have a second application,” he said. “God willing, I will be in Venezuela on Thursday.”

The return of the socialist leader to the communist-led island will coincide with a rare visit to Cuba by the pope, and Venezuelans have been captivated by the possibility that Chavez, who says he has gained a new spiritual outlook on life since his illness, could have a private audience with him.

There was no official confirmation of that, but Nelson Bocaranda, a pro-opposition Venezuelan journalist who has broken news on the president’s treatment in the absence of details from the government, said his sources in Cuba and high up in the Catholic church told him the pope had agreed to meet Chavez.

“The meeting will be strictly private, without media coverage, and the only ones who will be present, in addition to the pope and Chavez, could be the Castros and the Venezuelan’s daughters,” Bocaranda wrote in his column on Sunday.

“No other relatives nor Venezuelan officials can be at the meeting, which took so much to organize. No representative of the Venezuelan bishops will be present in Cuba.”

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