Venezuela's Chavez Returns to Havana for Treatment

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez is back in Cuba for another round of medical treatment for an undetermined length of time.

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Chana Ya'ar,

Pres. Hugo Chavez in Caracas Nov. 15
Pres. Hugo Chavez in Caracas Nov. 15

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez arrived Wednesday morning in Havana, Cuba for another round of medical treatment, Cuban media report, and it's not clear how long he will stay. 

The 58-year-old leader underwent three surgeries in Cuba beginning in June 2011 to remove two tumors from an undisclosed type of cancer allegedly located in his abdomen or pelvis. After months of chemotherapy, the popular Venezuelan revolutionary president returned to run a slightly less vigorous than usual campaign and still win re-election for another six-year term in the October polls.

At the time, Chavez told voters he was “totally free” of the disease. But on Tuesday, Chavez wrote a letter requesting permission from the Venezuelan Congress to travel to Havana for follow-up treatment known as hyperbaric oxygenation therapy.  By law, the president must request permission from the National Assembly for any absence longer than five days. 

It is not clear how long Chavez will be in Cuba, but hyperbaric oxygenation is a high-tech method used to prevent and/or treat bone decay caused by radiation therapy, according to the American Cancer Society.

"I've been carefully watching over my health and jealously carrying out the treatment plan ordered by my medical team,” Chavez wrote in the letter read on state television yesterday by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello. "It's been recommended to me that since it's been six months following my last treatment, that I begin a special treatment consisting of various sessions of hyperbaric oxygen therapy that along with physiotherapy will continue to  consolidate the process of recovery,” he wrote.

Bloomberg Businessweek quoted Siobhan Morden, head of Latin America fixed-income strategy at Jefferies Group Inc., as saying investors are betting that Chavez might not serve out his full term. Yields on the country's dollar bonds maturing in 2027 fell to the lowest since August 2008, falling 34 basis points, or 0.34 percentage point to 10.13 percent yesterday, Morden pointed out. The price rose 2.43 cents on the dollar to 93.32 cents, the highest since July 2008.

"The headline that Chavez now heads to Cuba for treatment should again trigger another round of expectations of regime change and supports the hypothesis that it was pain management during the campaign,” Morden wrote in an email, according to Bloomberg.

Chavez has cut down significantly on his public appearances since defeating presidential challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski in the October 7 election. He last appeared on television on November 15 speaking during a Council of Ministers at Miraflores Palace in Caracas. On October 11, the Venezuelan president appointed his longtime Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro as vice president, a move that signals Chavez may be grooming a successor.

Chavez has developed a warm personal relationship and strong diplomatic ties with Iran's President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas over the past several years, while simultaneously breaking ties with Israel and increasing hostility towards the United States. Venezuela also possesses the largest oil reserve in the Western hemisphere.

It is unclear how Venezuela will proceed in the diplomatic and military arena, should Hugo Chavez be unable to continue as president.