Chavez's return to Cuba for treatment rattles Venezuela

Wed Nov 28, 2012 2:36pm EST
 
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By Andrew Cawthorne and Jeff Franks

CARACAS/HAVANA (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez was back in Cuba on Wednesday for cancer-linked medical treatment that revived questions about the viability of his socialist rule and left Venezuelans again guessing about his exact condition.

After weeks of scarce public appearances, Chavez, 58, announced in a letter on Tuesday that he was going to Havana for therapy known as "hyperbaric oxygenation" - a method used to reduce bone decay caused by radiation therapy.

In Cuba, Chavez enjoys the friendship of past and present Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, plus guaranteed privacy on the tightly controlled Caribbean island.

Venezuelans, who have been endlessly speculating about Chavez's cancer since it was diagnosed in mid-2011, were not sure what to make of the latest twist - debating whether it was normal post-radiation treatment or a serious downturn.

"I really don't know what he has," Chavez's cousin, Guillermo Frias, told Reuters from the president's rural hometown state Barinas. "But anyway, I always pray for him every night. I stop at a shrine on the corner and always remember him.

"I hope he recovers fine. I'm sure he will. The election campaign was tough for him. He went too far."

Though he had declared himself cured, Chavez appeared exhausted at the end of his successful presidential re-election bid in October. He later admitted radiation had taken its toll.

"INVISIBLE MAN"   Continued...

 
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez points at a map as he speaks during a Council of Ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas November 15, 2012. REUTERS/Miraflores Palace/Handout