Chavez to have another operation
Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez said today he would have to undergo another operation after doctors in Cuba found a lesion in his pelvis where surgeons removed a large cancerous tumour last year.
The 57-year-old socialist leader said he had travelled to Havana for the tests on Saturday. Rumours of the unannounced trip had prompted a flood of speculation among the opposition and supporters that he was at death's door.
"There is no metastasis. Just this small lesion in the same place where they removed the tumour," Mr Chavez said during a televised tour of a factory in his home state of Barinas.
"Because of the growing rumours, I'm obliged to give this information now ... it's a small lesion, about 2 cm across, very clearly visible. This will need to be taken out, it needs more surgery, supposedly less complicated than before."
He said the next operation would take place in the coming days, but that it had not yet been decided where.
"No one should be alarmed ... I'm in good physical condition to face this new battle," he said. "It has to be verified whether there is any link with the previous tumour, or not."
Donning a bright red hard hat to stroll around the proposed site of the giant Veneminsk factory, Mr Chavez had joked with workers and looked to be in reasonable health.
Earlier in the day, his information minister had denounced the report that Mr Chavez had been rushed back to Havana for emergency treatment as part of a "dirty war by scum," launched by the opposition ahead of the October 7th election.
A prominent opposition-leaning Venezuelan journalist, Nelson Bocaranda, wrote yesterday that Mr Chavez, who had two operations in Havana last June, had returned unexpectedly to Cuba and that some of his relatives were flying there too.
Mr Chavez has insisted he is completely recovered, although medical experts say it is too soon to make such a call.
His allies were scathing about Bocaranda after Mr Chavez appeared on television. Deputy foreign minister Temir Porras joked on Twitter: "They'll have to take me for an emergency operation in Cuba. I'm dying of laughter!"
State media commentator Mario Silva said Bocaranda's "false teeth must have fallen out" when he saw the live footage.
Bocaranda said today that an official Venezuelan plane had left Havana for Barinas overnight with the president's mother, sister, children and a Cuban medical team on board, and he denied he had ever wished Mr Chavez dead.
The president's health is the wildcard in the run-up to the election, when he will seek a new six-year term.
The opposition is newly united behind one candidate - youthful state governor Henrique Capriles - and see the vote as their best chance to end Mr Chavez's 13 years in power.
Recent opinion polls have given Mr Chavez an edge over Mr Capriles, thanks partly to a huge program of new state spending on social projects. But about a third of Venezuelans remain undecided, and competition for their votes will be intense.