Chavez was meeting with top aides on Wednesday to plan for his absence while expressions of support poured in from his allies around the region. Venezuela’s foreign ministry said Chavez had received messages of concern from Presidents Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua, Francisco Mujica of Uruguay, Evo Morales of Bolivia and Cristina Fernandez of Argentina.
Chavez told Venezuelans on Tuesday that doctors in Cuba had over the weekend found a two-centimeter (less than an inch) lesion is in the same place where they removed a cancerous tumor last year.
The socialist president, who hopes to extend his 13 years in power with another six-year term in the Oct. 7 elections, said he will likely need radiation therapy.
That will most likely mean being incapacitated in the coming weeks, though Chavez did not mention who might replace him during a temporary absence.
“I’m not going to be able to continue with the same rhythm,” he told state TV in a telephone call Tuesday night, adding he would need to “rethink my personal agenda and take care of myself, confront what must be confronted.”
Chavez, 57, did not say when he would depart for Cuba. He said he would attend to government business Wednesday, including signing papers and meeting with the Cabinet and military leaders.
His departure for Havana will be made “without haste,” he said. “All in good time.”
A leading Colombian oncologist, Dr. Carlos Castro, said that if Chavez undergoes radiation therapy that typically means a minimum of 10 daily sessions, which means Chavez would need to name a temporary replacement while undergoing treatment.
The news is bad for Chavez’s political longevity, said Luis Vicente Leon, director of surveying at the Datanalisis polling firm. Even if the 57-year-old president returns to form after surgery, it will “be difficult to avoid comparisons to his rival (Henrique) Capriles,” an energetic and athletic 39-year-old former governor, the pollster said.
From July to September last year, Chavez received four rounds of chemotherapy, both in Cuba and in Venezuela, and he subsequently said tests showed he was cancer-free.
Chavez on Tuesday denied rumors that the cancer had spread aggressively even as he said doctors do not know whether the new growth was malignant.
“I completely deny what’s going around that I have metastasis in the liver or I don’t know where, that the cancer has spread all over my body and that I’m already dying,” he said.
He has never given the cancer’s exact nature or location, and opposition politicians and critics have repeatedly accused Chavez of a lack of transparency
Analyst Cynthia Arnson of the Woodrow Wilson International Center in Washington said the new surgery seriously complicates Chavez’s re-election prospects.