Chavez’s secret fight against cancerIASW | Sunday, November 20th, 2011 | 4 Comments »
LEONARDO COUTINHO AND DUDA TEIXEIRA
(In English, Translated by La Patilla)
A month ago, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez kissed the plaster image of doctor Jose Gregorio Hernandez (1864-1919), worshiped as a saint in his country, and thanked him for “curing” his cancer. Play acting. The photo above, made two weeks ago, reveals a different reality. The puffy face, dry skin, lack of hair and the tired look make up the portrait of a very sick man. “His appearance shows that the treatment continues, and the cancer is active or it could return,” says oncologist Ademar Lopes of São Paulo. This assessment is reinforced by a series of detailed accounts of the evolution of Chavez’s cancer, generated from sources in Venezuela, which VEJA had access to. According to these reports, Chavez is not only sick, but his clinical picture is complicated with each passing day. The cancer, which was confined to the prostate and the colon, has long spread with bone metastases. Venezuelan sources, supported by medical examinations, claim that Chavez would hardly live over a year. The tyrant, who has ruled Venezuela for twelve years, senses beforehand an anticipated dusk. Chavez may not be present at the October presidential elections next year.
The first person to alert Chavez of the severity of his health problem was a Spanish doctor, last January. By then, Chavez had lived for over a year with symptoms indicating the existence of a tumor in the prostate. Despite this, the Venezuelan postponed the suggested examinations. In May, the first symptoms indicating poor health were already visible. In public, Chavez appeared on a crutch. The official version claimed that the real cause was a knee injury. But the difficulty walking had another reason, according to information obtained by Veja: an advanced stage of bone cancer. The following month, Chavez was hospitalized in Havana (Cuba) to remove the prostate tumor. Surgery, not recommended for cases of neoplasia in this gland with metastasis, may have been a very serious medical error that accelerated the spread of cancer. A second surgery was carried out ten days as assured Chavez. From that moment on, European physicians with imported equipment directed the therapy. The Cubans were relegated to the role of observers.
Chavez’s bloated image of recent days, with the chin sunk on his chest, can be interpreted as a sign that the prostate tumor would already have reached the rectum (the end of the intestine) compressing the urinary tract, or as the effect of steroids used in chemotherapy. Urologist Fernando Almeida, of the Federal University of São Paulo, and oncologists Sergio Azevedo, of the Federal University of Rio Grande do Sul ,and Samuel Aguiar Jr, of the AC Camargo Hospital of Sao Paulo, made a critical analysis of the reports obtained by Veja. According to experts, some of the above procedures do not apply to regular cases of prostate cancer. Tumors arising in this gland, for example, do not require chemotherapy, and Chavez already faced four sessions. According to the Venezuelan sources, the use of chemotherapy is due to a colon cancer, which pierced the intestine wall, causing an infection. The tumor in the colon also explains the second surgery. The possibility of two tumors arising simultaneously is rare but not impossible. Because the symptoms were postponed by more than one year, prostate cancer cells spread to the bone, which was detected in a cytological analysis. In August, the doctors concluded that the two-front treatment, with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, had failed. The transfer of Chavez to a cancer center in Europe was considered. He refused. In September, he received a series of sessions held in a clinic set up in the island of La Orchila, where the presidential beach house is located.
In late October, Chavez made a surprise decision, according to the sources from Venezuela. Aware of the seriousness of his illness, he chose not to undergo aggressive treatment, which would have surely withdrawn him from public activity.
He opted to receive a milder treatment. However, he had to abandon his Sunday program, Aló Presidente, and his endless speeches. Now, he hardly leaves Caracas. Anticipating not participating in the October elections for health reasons, Chavez has chosen Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro -the only member of the government who knows all the truth about the boss’ disease- as substitute. In 2012, Maduro will face a strong, organized opposition. Seven candidates in their 40s will participate in the February primaries to choose the candidate to come up against Chavez. Although the disease has increased the administration’s popularity by 8 percentage points, the empathy has not translated into political support. 52% of Venezuelans would prefer an opposition representative to win the next elections.
In Havana, Chávez was treated at the Center for Medical and Surgical Research (CIMEQ). The beds are reserved for members of the Communist Party, the military, and artists in the country. Despite being considered the best in the island, the Cimeq scanners are ten years old and other small equipment are considered “Frankensteins”, armed with old Dutch and French equipment pieces. Three years ago, a CIMEQ cardiologist had a pancreas tumor and came to São Paulo. The government of the island covered his expenses. A telegram from the American diplomatic mission in 2008, released by Wikileaks, says that the head of the CIMEQ, a neurosurgeon, travelled to England to undergo eye surgery and, since then, returns periodically for control.
As President of the country with the fifth largest oil reserves in the world, Chávez would find proper treatment in his own country. Or he could follow the example of Paraguayan Fernando Lugo, who treats his lymphatic cancer in the Sîrio-Lebanese Hospital of São Paulo, since last year. In early July, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro consulted Brazilian doctors in Brazil and prepared a possible Chavez trip to the country. The price to pay for this option would most likely be that the details of his illness would not remain secret. In a consolidated democracy, they hardly exist. All Brazilians know the struggle of President Rousseff and now former President Lula in detail. Chavez deals with his illness the same way he manages his country: without transparency and ignoring the signs of deterioration. Last year, inflation reached 28% and GDP fell 1.5%. Caracas has the highest homicide rate in Latin America: 122 deaths per 100,000 inhabitants. Cartoonists are arrested for making a simple joke. Willing to accelerate what he considers an unprecedented revolution and a passionate believer of his own infallibility, Chavez appealed, to Cubans for ideology and medicine. This did not cure his country or himself.
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