MPs OK Chavez`s plan to get chemotherapy in Cuba

Last Updated: Sunday, July 17, 2011 - 00:23

Caracas: Lawmakers approved a request by President Hugo Chavez to travel to Cuba on Saturday to undergo chemotherapy, and the Venezuelan leader said he would leave within hours for a new phase of cancer treatment.

The unanimous vote came after a passionate debate in which opposition politicians said they supported the president`s right to receive treatment but disputed his plan to remain in charge while in Havana. Opposition lawmakers also demanded more information about his illness.

Chavez said opposition politicians were wrong to call for him to delegate duties to Vice President Elias Jaua while away and that he would maintain his position as president.

"I will come back much better than I am right now," Chavez said in televised remarks from the presidential palace after the legislative session.

Caracas: Lawmakers approved a request by President Hugo Chavez to travel to Cuba on Saturday to undergo chemotherapy, and the Venezuelan leader said he would leave within hours for a new phase of cancer treatment.

The unanimous vote came after a passionate debate in which opposition politicians said they supported the president`s right to receive treatment but disputed his plan to remain in charge while in Havana. Opposition lawmakers also demanded more information about his illness.

Chavez said opposition politicians were wrong to call for him to delegate duties to Vice President Elias Jaua while away and that he would maintain his position as president.

"I will come back much better than I am right now," Chavez said in televised remarks from the presidential palace after the legislative session.

The president`s press office announced plans for a send-off ceremony at Caracas` international airport on Saturday afternoon.

"Let him go to Cuba," opposition lawmaker Alfonso Marquina said during the debate. "But we also demand compliance with the constitution ... so that he doesn`t continue governing from Havana, Cuba."

Marquina said the opposition believes Chavez`s request qualifies as a "temporary absence." Under Venezuela`s constitution, the vice president may take the president`s place during temporary absences of up to 90 days, which the National Assembly may extend for 90 days more for a total of about six months.

Pro-Chavez lawmaker Cilia Flores disagreed with the opposition argument, saying the National Assembly was simply granting him permission to be away for more than 5 days. "The constitution is explicit," she said. "You all invent."

The 56-year-old`s cancer diagnosis has thrown uncertainty into Venezuela`s political landscape. Chavez, who has held dominant power during more than 12 years in office, has said he`s confident he will rebound but has also admitted a long road to recovery remains.

Since coming to power, Chavez has launched sweeping socialist-inspired reforms and frequently clashed with the US although his country is one of the top oil suppliers to the United States. He is up for re-election in late 2012.

Chavez was required by the constitution to seek legislative approval for his trip, and was ensured support from his allies who dominate the National Assembly.

In a letter laying out his request, Chavez said: "Now I should follow the path toward that long and difficult return." He likened it to an "ascent toward Chimborazo," the highest mountain in Ecuador and one of the highest in the world.

Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba on June 20 to remove the tumor, which he has said was the size of a baseball. He has not specified where it was located nor with what type of cancer he was diagnosed.

The leftist leader returned to Caracas nearly two weeks ago and has since rallied supporters, addressed troops, and generally sought to reassure Venezuelans that he is firmly in control in spite of his illness.

He has also reminded his audiences of the challenges he faces, frequently saying he is fighting for his life and is under doctors` orders to not overexert himself.

Chavez acknowledged on Wednesday for the first time that he expected to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment, which he said would "armor the body against new malignant cells."

He led a televised Cabinet meeting after Saturday`s congressional vote, reviewing highway and rail projects and also approving funding for several programs.

A steady stream of messages have also appeared on Chavez`s Twitter account in recent days. In one of several messages posted Saturday morning, Chavez responded to a supporter saying: "I`m fighting like never before, and I promise you I will live and we will be victorious!"

Bureau Report



First Published: Saturday, July 16, 2011 - 08:53

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