Chavez to skip Americas summit on doctors’ advice

CARACAS, (Reuters) – Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez will not attend this weekend’s regional summit in Colombia and will instead fly straight to Cuba to continue being treated for cancer, his foreign minister said today.

The 57-year-old socialist leader said on Friday his doctors had not yet decided whether he was fit enough to visit the “Summit of the Americas” en route to a fourth session of radiation therapy in Havana.

“On the recommendation of his medical team, President Chavez decided not to attend this event,” Venezuela’s Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro told reporters in Cartagena at the meeting of about 30 heads of state, including U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Today he leaves for Havana to continue to his treatment, which is going excellently,” Maduro said.

An appearance at the summit would have been a show of strength for Chavez, who has undergone three cancer operations in less than a year. Very little official information has been given about his health, including what type of cancer he has.

It would also have delighted his supporters by giving Chavez – who once at the United Nations called former U.S. President George W. Bush “the devil” – the chance to challenge Obama in front of dozens of other leaders.

Despite his illness, Chavez is campaigning hard to win a new six-year term at an election on Oct. 7 that is shaping up to be the toughest political fight of his 13 years in power.