REPORTING FROM CARACAS, VENEZUELA, AND BOGOTA, COLOMBIA -- After 10 days out of sight and with rumors swirling that he had died while undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made a half-hour telephone call to a state-run television station, claiming reports of his demise were part of a “dirty war.”
“These are desperate rumors,” Chavez said. “I’m coming out fine from all the exams.”
Chavez announced in February that he had a recurrence of the cancer diagnosed last June, which he had previously declared to be in remission. He said Monday that his treatments were going well, and that he would return to Venezuela this weekend, possibly as early as Thursday.
The 57-year-old leader has undergone four rounds of chemotherapy and three surgeries to treat tumors in his pelvic area. He has never said precisely what kind of cancer he has, nor its exact location.
Chavez also dismissed the electoral prospects of Henrique Capriles, the opposition candidate he will face in October. He said even polls conducted by canvassers not associated with the government are giving him a 20-point lead over Capriles.
He referred to Capriles as “majunche,” a term meaning someone of poor quality and no consequence. Capriles in recent days has accused Chavez of governing by Twitter, a reference to Chavez’s medical absences and the social medium the president uses frequently.
Chavez also took the opportunity to comment on the flight this month of a former judge, Eladio Aponte, to Costa Rica and then on to the United States in a U.S. government airplane. Aponte gave an interview to a U.S. Spanish-language television station saying that Chavez government officials had personally pressured him to release or go easy on suspected drug traffickers.
“This person is a delinquent,” Chavez said, denying Aponte’s charges that he had personally called the judge by adding that “eagles don’t hunt flies.”
The Venezuelan government had accused Aponte of complicity with suspected drug trafficker Walid Makled. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro said Aponte had “sold his soul” to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration.
--Special correspondents Mery Mogollon in Caracas and Chris Kraul in Bogota
Photo: A picture provided by Venezuela's presidency shows President Hugo Chavez, center, and his daughter Rosa Virginia being welcomed by Cuban Vice President Jose Ramon Machado at Jose Marti International Airport in Havana on April 15. Credit: European Pressphoto Agency