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Skepticism persists over Chávez’s health despite improvement claim

Venezuelan president is still in intensive care in Havana, says journalist

A couple rides past a street mural of Hugo Chávez in the city of Barinas.
A couple rides past a street mural of Hugo Chávez in the city of Barinas.JORGE SILVA (REUTERS)

Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez, who is recovering from complications after undergoing major cancer surgery in Cuba two weeks ago, is up and walking, Vice President Nicolás Maduro told the nation in a Monday night broadcast.

But as Maduro tried to reassure Venezuelans that the 58-year-old Chávez was on the road to recovery, many are still skeptical over the real state of the president's health. Last week, National Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello said that Chávez's inauguration, which is scheduled for January 10, could be postponed to a later date to ensure that the president is able to be sworn in to begin his fourth term after winning October's elections.

The Caracas government has not been forthcoming with detailed information regarding Chávez's health. Officially, it is still unknown what type of cancer the leftist leader has and why he has had to undergo four surgeries since a tumor was first detected in June 2011.

Chávez said earlier this month that he needed another operation to remove malignant cancer cells that had returned. But soon after the surgery, he suffered from internal bleeding and then a respiratory infection, and was also said to be unconscious for several days.

In a broadcast on state-owned Venezolana de Televisión (VTV), Maduro said that he spoke to Chávez by phone for about 15 minutes and that the Venezuelan president was providing him with instructions. "He was in good spirits, and, as usual, transmitted all of his energy to us," Maduro said. "He was walking -- he was exercising."

But in an interview with the Associated Press, Dr Carlos Castro, director of the Colombian League against Cancer, an association that promotes cancer prevention, treatment and education, said that Maduro's announcement was too vague to paint a clear picture of Chávez's condition.

"It's possible [that he is walking] because everything is possible," Castro told AP. "They probably had him sit up in bed and take two steps."

"It's unclear what they mean by exercise. Was it four little steps?" he added. "I think he is still in a critical condition."

Journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who has been providing detailed reports on Chávez's health through close sources, said the claim that the president was walking is untrue.

"Chávez is in isolation at the intensive care unit of the CIMEQ hospital [in Havana] to avoid any other infections, and he is under strict orders to rest," Bocaranda posted on his website runrun.es. He added that the president hasn't been able to break the fever he has had since his operation on December 11.

Bocaranda also reported that Chávez's family, including his parents, daughters, brothers and grandchildren, stayed with him until around 9pm on Christmas Eve and then left the hospital to celebrate Christmas with a dinner at a nearby home where they are staying.

Just hours before Maduro's interview on television, Communications and Information Minister Ernesto Villegas reported that Chávez had experienced "a slight improvement" and was in contact with his family.

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