CARACAS, (Reuters) – The Venezuelan government today broadcast a video of President Hugo Chavez playing the European bowling game of bocce in Cuba in a new effort to quash rumors that he was dying of cancer while out of the country.
The video showed a jovial and chirpy Chavez strolling in a garden and playing the bowling game with his brother and two ministers on Monday in Havana where he is having radiation treatment for an undisclosed cancer.
“We are continuing the treatment, facing the difficulties, governing and taking political decisions … for the benefit of the Venezuelan people,” Chavez said in the 13-minute video.
His unusually long silence since leaving for Cuba on April 14 stirred speculation about his health and raised doubts about his political future as he seeks re-election in an Oct. 7 vote.
The rumors forced Chavez to call state television on Monday to tell Venezuelans he was all right and still able to govern the South American oil producing nation.
During his nine-day silence he had only shown signs of life in brief messages on Twitter that led his opponents to criticize him for running the country remotely by tweets.
Chavez, wearing a track suit, appeared in the video with his brother Adan, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro and Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is Chavez’s son-in-law, his daughter Maria Gabriela and a grandson.
Chavez said he was working on a new labor law that is expected to cut the work week and extend labor benefits. He said on Monday that he would return to Caracas on Thursday to sign the labor legislation, which is due to go into effect on May 1.
“I have great faith in what we are doing to fight this illness that ambushed me last year. I have faith in Christ,” Chavez said, kissing a crucifix.
He vowed to recover from his bout with cancer so that he can continue advancing Venezuela’s socialist “revolution.”
Chavez’s opponents have criticized him for keeping the country in the dark about the extent of his illness, raising suspicions that his cancer may have spread from an initial baseball-sized tumor that was removed from his pelvis.
The 57-year-old leader remains very popular among poorer Venezuelans who have benefited from his social programs, which redistribute some of the country’s vast oil wealth.
Recent opinion polls have given Chavez a comfortable double-digit lead over opposition candidate Henrique Capriles six months before the election, and his trips to Cuba for treatment appear not to have changed that.
“We will continue consolidating that advantage,” Chavez said from Havana.