Venezuela’s government has postponed a regional summit scheduled for July 5, citing President Hugo Chavez’s health as he recovers from surgery in Cuba.
Wednesday’s cancellation of the inaugural July 5-6 summit for the CELAC bloc also cast doubt on Chavez’s return for July 5 celebrations in Venezuela, marking 200 years since its independence from Spain.
The decision to put off the summit of the Latin American leaders until later this year was announced shortly after new videos aired on state television showed Chavez chatting with Cuban icon Fidel Castro.
Chavez’s televised appearance broke a long post-surgery silence that has prompted speculation about his health.
The video footage, in which Chavez seemed to have lost weight but was characteristically animated, was the first to surface since the 56-year-old was rushed into emergency surgery in Cuba on June 10.
Since the surgery, said to have been prompted by a sharp pain diagnosed as a pelvic abscess, top government officials have insisted he is “recovering well”.
“It was a medical recommendation,” Antonio Patriota, the Brazilian foreign minister, confirmed to reporters in Paraguay after being informed of the suspension by his Venezuelan counterpart, Nicolas Maduro.
Earlier, sources close to the new CELAC regional body said only that it had been suspended “for now and will be held at another date”.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, who has built a close relationship with Chavez in contrast to the high tensions between the neighbouring South American nations in recent years, lamented the summit’s postponement.
“I deeply regret the summit was cancelled due to the health of President Chavez,” he said in Bogota as he welcomed Peru’s president-elect Ollanta Humala, but added it was better to say “postponement” than “cancellation” of the meeting. The two leaders wished for Chavez’s swift recovery.
The Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC, its Spanish-language acronym) aims to boost trade and institutional cooperation in the region.
Its creation last year, including all American nations apart from the United States and Canada, was a landmark move in Chavez’s efforts to be a regional powerbroker.
Speculation over Chavez’s health
Chavez’s uncharacteristic withdrawal from public life in recent weeks has left people in Venezuela speculating that he might have had plastic surgery, could be hiding a more serious ailment, or was seeking to drum up sympathy ahead of a 2012 election in which he is expected to seek a third term.
The Venezuelan government has not specifically addressed details of Chavez’s health, while opposition lawmakers are up in arms in Caracas as many allege it is unconstitutional for the president to be governing from abroad.
Caracas has however rejected reports that Chavez was in a critical condition following the surgery.
“A picture says more than a thousand words,” Venezuelan information minister Andres Izarra said in Caracas after seeing the video, adding that he had personally spoken with Chavez.
“We can see him there, very dynamic. We can see that he is recovering.” He said Chavez had a right to take the time he needed to recover before returning to Venezuela.
Chavez “has not abandoned his constitutional responsibilities; indeed he just called a cabinet meeting to orient us all,” Elias Jaua, the Venezuelan vice-president, said on Monday, noting there had been no temporary transfer of presidential power.