Chasing after Chavez's health

President Hugo Chavez appears to be well enough to resume treatment for his extremely aggressive cancer, minister says.

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    At this weekend's summit of the EU and CELAC (Community of Latin American and Caribbean Nations) in Santiago, Chile, one of the people most chased after by the media is Ernesto Villagas, Venezuela's Information and Communications Minister.

    With astonishing patience and calm, he answers questions over and over again about the health of his boss, President Hugo Chavez.

    "The evolution of the patient is favourable. At this moment his serious respiratory infection has been overcome, although a certain degree of respiratory insufficiency persists and is being duly treated. Having reached this new stage, treatment for his principal illness [cancer] has begun, to compliment the surgery undergone on December 11," said Villegas on Saturday, reading from the latest health communiqué.

    Bombarded with questions about whether President Chavez will remain in Cuba for months, he is quick to clarify that it should be a matter of weeks before the ailing president returns to Venezuela.

    The fact that President Chavez now appears to be well enough to resume treatment for his extremely aggressive cancer "in the pelvic region" - as it is officially described - would appear to be good news, at least in the short term.

    Needless to say, officials are not giving any indication yet about the patient's overall prognosis.

    It has been almost seven weeks since President Chavez underwent his fourth cancer operation and it was almost touching to see how his closest aides produced a photograph of a signed document that will be presented to the CELAC Summit on Sunday.

    "It is a message from the president and here you can see his signature, signed as he always does, with a red ink pen!" Villagas said.

    After the scandal of this week's publication of a fake photograph of President Chavez on an artificial respirator, published by the now humiliated Spanish newspaper El Pais, no one dares to question the authenticity of the signature. At least not out loud.

    One can only wonder that if we have seen the president's signature this week, can a photograph (a real one, I mean) be far behind?


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