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LATIN AMERICA

Correa says he knew that Chávez had “little time left” as early as December

Fidel Castro told the Ecuadorian leader that the Venezuelan president was terminally ill

Presidents Nicolas Maduro (l) and Rafael Correa pay tribute at the tomb of the late president Hugo Chávez on Monday.
Presidents Nicolas Maduro (l) and Rafael Correa pay tribute at the tomb of the late president Hugo Chávez on Monday. leo ramírez (AFP)

Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa revealed on Monday that former Cuban president Fidel Castro told him in early December that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez had only a few months to live.

“He told me that the situation was very serious and that he only had a few months left to live,” Correa said in an interview with the Telesur news network on the occasion of what would have been the 59th birthday of the late Chávez. “That is why we had to prepare ourselves emotionally for this difficult blow.”

Chávez died on March 5 following a nearly two-year illness with cancer. Correa said that Castro had told him about Chávez’s condition in Havana in early December, the day before the Venezuelan leader was to undergo his fourth and final operation for cancer.

He recalled he spoke with Chávez, whom he described as being in good spirits and looking healthy and radiant. But Castro then told him otherwise.

That is why we had to prepare ourselves emotionally for this difficult blow.”

Correa was told to be discreet about Chávez’s condition, and he did so until Monday’s interview with the television network that was founded by Chávez. The Ecuadorian president’s recollection of what happened in early December greatly contrasts with the Venezuelan government’s own version that Chávez was fully recovering in Havana and was governing the country from his hospital bed in the weeks leading to his death.

It also adds to an early version of Chávez’s last days offered by the head of his presidential guard and a close confident, José Ornella, who told AP two days after the Venezuelan leader’s death that he could hardly speak and only moved his lips. “I don’t want to die, please don’t let me die,” Ornella said that Chávez told him.

Recently, in an interview with Spanish language channel of CNN, Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that Chávez came up with a way to communicate with his family and after sending a message to the Venezuelan people on February 18 on his Twitter account, he could not communicate further.

These small recollections question the optimism that Venezuelan government officials had at the time. President Nicolás Maduro, then Chávez’s vice president, said weeks before Chávez died that he had met with the Venezuelan leader for five hours straight to receive instructions.

 On Christmas Day last year, Maduro told the nation that Chávez was walking and performing exercises as part of his recovery, and was sharing the holidays with his family.

“He told me to eat just a half of a hallaca,” joked then the burly Maduro about a typical Christmas plate.

The Venezuelan government’s strategy at the time was trying to demonstrate that Chávez was mentally and physically capable of being sworn in for his third term on January 10, 2013 – a ceremony that never took place.

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