Cancer-Stricken Chavez Returns To Venezuela

Originally published on July 7, 2011 9:04 am
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NPR's Juan Forero has the story from capital city, Caracas.

JUAN FORERO: Just a few days ago, Chavez gave the news himself in a dour, late- night televised address.

HUGO CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: It was cancer, he said, after a series of exams in Havana. A tumor was successfully removed, the 56-year-old president told his countrymen. But Chavez never said what kind of cancer. And many in Venezuela were simply left with the image of a diminished president, perhaps hiding very bad news. That's when Chavez decided to come back, and at a symbolic time for him, the bicentennial of the country's independence.


FORERO: Last night, the president's red-clad followers crowded outside the presidential palace, shouting for their leader and singing the national anthem. Daisy Perez, who is 44, said she rushed to get a glimpse of Chavez.

DAISY PEREZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: She and others in the crowd went wild as Chavez, in trademark army fatigues and red beret, stood on the palace balcony where he'd given so many fire-and- brimstone speeches. His followers blew horns, waved enormous Venezuelan flags and held aloft posters of the president's likeness.

CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: I couldn't miss this, Chavez says, not the bicentennial festivities that are the life of the fatherland. He went on to tell his followers that this was the epicenter of love.

CHAVEZ: (Spanish spoken)

FORERO: And he thanked them for providing him with support. The Chavistas, as his loyalists are known, then chanted for their comandante to forge on.

GROUP: (Chanting in Spanish)

FORERO: Leopoldo Lopez, an opposition politician, said the government lied about the health of the president.

LEOPOLDO LOPEZ: There is very little transparency in the information policy of the government toward Venezuelans. And, of course, the result of that is distrust.

FORERO: Luis Vicente Leon, a well known analyst and pollster, said the government reacted that way because the illness showed that Chavez is not invincible. As for his return, Leon said, Chavez also had to send a message to those in Venezuela who might have been thinking he was weak.

LUIS VICENTE LEON: I am here. I am treating my sickness, but I am in control of the country and I am going to be the leader. I am going to be in charge, and I am going to be the candidate for the 2012 election.

FORERO: Juan Forero, NPR News.


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