CARACAS (Reuters): Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez canceled a trip to Argentina and Brazil that would have been his first official trip abroad since undergoing cancer surgery in June, but said on Friday he was in good health and had been jogging.
The 57-year-old socialist leader said in an hour-long phone call to state TV that he had to stay home to manage an emergency response to torrential rains that hit Venezuela this week and left thousands of people homeless.
“I am dedicated to this above everything else,” he said after chatting with families displaced by the floods.
“These children, the women, the good men who have suffered for how many years. Poverty. Abandonment. Here we are. Everyday there are bigger reasons to live and to continue fighting for the people,” the president said.
He told the host of the program he was in good health and had been exercising. “I’m very sweaty. I was jogging,” he said, before breaking into a brief song.
The last-minute cancellation of his trip stoked renewed speculation about his condition. Chavez says he is completely cured following four sessions of chemotherapy, but has not been seen in public since Tuesday.
He had been due to attend Saturday’s inauguration of Argentine President Cristina Fernandez for a second term, and then on Sunday visit Brazil’s former leader, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who was also recently diagnosed with cancer.
Chavez’s trip would have been a politically useful show of vigor before his re-election campaign next year.
Apart from trips to Cuba for medical treatment, the normally globe-trotting Chavez has not been abroad since an operation to remove a large tumor from his pelvis in June.
He has said chemotherapy sessions resulted in a “miraculous” recovery, but rumors persist and the details of his condition are a closely guarded secret. Cancer experts say it is too soon for Chavez to declare himself fully cured.
Chavez was robust and garrulous during a three-hour news conference on Tuesday to mark the 13th anniversary of the former paratrooper’s first election victory in South America’s largest oil exporting nation.
At various points since returning from surgery in Cuba, he has dropped out of sight for a few days, only to return chuckling at reports of his demise and explaining he has had to lie low due to colds and other minor ailments.