Venezuelan Opposition “Going Crazy” over Rumours about Chavez’s Health

The international and Venezuelan right wing have “gone crazy” spreading rumours about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s health, said Vice-president Elias Jaua. Speculations by private media that the president is dying or has cancer have been rampant since Chavez was operated on in Cuba on 10 June.

By Tamara Pearson - Venezuelanalysis.com
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Venezuela's Vice-President Elias Jaua (AVN/ Verónica Canino)
Venezuela's Vice-President Elias Jaua (AVN/ Verónica Canino)

Mérida, June 27th 2011 (Venezuelanalysis.com) –The international and Venezuelan right wing have “gone crazy” spreading rumours about Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s health, said Vice-president Elias Jaua. Speculations by private media that the president is dying or has cancer have been rampant since Chavez was operated on in Cuba on 10 June.

Yesterday the head of the national assembly, Fernando Soto Rojas, dispelled the rumours, explaining that while the president was visiting Cuba as part of a short tour of Latin America to sign bi-national agreements, he became ill and had to undergo emergency surgery for a pelvic abscess.

Speaking via telephone on a live television programme for TeleSUR on 12 June Chavez said that Cuba had one of the most advanced health care services in the world. “I got ill in the right place,” he said. Also during the phone call he said he did not have anything “malignant”.

“I’ll be the first to inform the country, Chavez is recovering and he’ll be here ...on 5 July,” Soto Rojas said. On 5 July the summit to launch the Community of Latin America and Caribbean countries (CELAC) begins in Caracas.

Soto Rojas, speaking at a meeting of grassroots media in Aragua state, asked the opposition to “end its media campaign of manipulation” of the situation, and said that the president is a “human being who can get sick like everyone else”.

Celia Flores, part of the national leadership of the governing United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), said the international and national community needed to respect Chavez’s “right to recover his health” while speaking at a press conference today.

She said that during the weekly meeting of the national PSUV leadership Chavez spoke with them by phone, discussing the activity of the party and responding to all the messages desiring his recovery, saying “love is paid for with love”.

The minister for communications, Andres Izarra, also called on Venezuelans to not echo the rumours about Chavez’s health

“Chavez will be with us for a while,” said Vice-president Elias Jaua on Saturday, saying the right wing was “going crazy creating rumours”.

“They’re rubbing their hands together... even talking about the president’s death,” Jaua said.

YVKE Mundial, a state-owned radio station, reported that hundreds of religious people in Barinas state prayed for Chavez’s quick recovery and return, while in Zulia state an indigenous group carried out a Wayu’u ritual for Chavez’s health.

Since he was hospitalised Chavez has posted a few messages on Twitter, one expressing his happiness at the visit of his daughter and grandchildren, and another expressing his “excitement” and “pride” over the development of the housing mission.

In a press release today he also congratulated journalists, as today is Journalists Day in Venezuela. “You all... have the honourable responsibility of shaping consciousness, patriotic commitment, and our peoples’ memory,” he wrote.

Right wing rumours

Many international private newspapers have picked up an article by the Miami-based Spanish language Nuevo Herald published on Saturday 25 June saying that Chavez was in a “critical” and “serious” state, according to comments supposedly made on Friday to the paper by “United States intelligence sources”. The paper quoted no other sources, nor did it explain what the U.S sources were doing in Cuba or how they got the information.

Nuevo Herald also wrote that the “sources” reported that Chavez’s mother and daughter had “mysteriously” travelled to Cuba, although such information is publically and easily available through the various Venezuelan government media outlets.

Nuevo Herald argued that the “secretiveness” around the president’s health and his lack of public appearances are the cause of a climate of “uncertainty” in Venezuela.

The next day, yesterday, Nuevo Herald released another article, “Uncertainty in Venezuela because of health of Chavez” with similar statements.

Also, last night a group called Wikileaks Argentina, not associated with the document leaking organisation, Wikileaks, put out a tweet saying that an Argentinean embassy cable had confirmed that Chavez had died of a heart attack in Cuba. The tweet prompted a range of articles, blog entries, and speculation, but was later revealed as a hoax and the twitter account was deleted.

Today New Statesmen headlined with “Hugo Chavez: not dead”, the BBC wrote yesterday, “Absence of Ill Hugo Chavez sparks speculation,” and on 24 June the Wall Street Journal headlined with, “Chavez Illness Sparks Succession Talk”.

Last Thursday Reuters headlined with “Surgery silences Venezuela’s Chavez, controversy grows”, opening the article with, “The most verbose president on the planet is strangely silent.”  The next day the Peruvian news agency Terra headlined with, “Venezuela: Asking for the replacement of Hugo Chavez due to illness” – referring to the opposition umbrella group the Democratic Unity Table (MUD).

Chavez has had little “time off” during his presidency

In the almost twelve years that Chavez has been president of Venezuela, apart from the current hospital time, he has only taken a few days off, also due to illness.

In August last year Chavez took a few days off because he was sick, resulting in similar speculation by international and national private media, with daily La Razon informing that the president had nasal cancer. Chavez corrected the misinformation during a graduation ceremony.

Chavez has also had to cancel his Sunday national television and radio show twice this year, in February and April, due to the flu, then in May due to a knee operation.

In 2005 then president of the U.S. George Bush took a five week holiday, and according to the Washington Post, at the time it was his 49th trip to his ranch since taking office, on top of “weekends and holidays at Camp David or at his parents’ compound”. Bush is also known for having taken a month holiday just before the 11 September 2001 attacks. By August 2006, he’d spent over a year of his presidency at his ranch, for an average of 9 weeks per year. "I guess you could look at it this way -- the more he's on vacation, the less damage he can do to the country," Pam Spaulding wrote August 12, 2007

Since he was hospitalised Chavez has received numerous international messages of solidarity, including telephones calls and cards from Argentinean President Christina Kirchner, Ex-Honduran President Manuel Zelaya and representatives from the Sandinista government in Nicaragua.