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Chavez Cancer Treatment: President Seeks 'Divine' Support

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CARACAS, Venezuela -- President Hugo Chavez told a gathering of soldiers Thursday that he's seeking divine support from the indigenous deities and spirits of Venezuela's central plains to help him survive cancer.

"Cancer? What is that for me? I have faith in the spirits of the plains that I'll prevail. I will live and we will win the elections next year," Chavez told hundreds of troops massed in formation at Fort Tiuna, Venezuela's largest military installation.

Chavez often describes himself as a devout Roman Catholic, although his religious beliefs are eclectic. The former paratroop commander says his unorthodox religious doctrines are rooted in his upbringing in Los Llanos, Venezuela's sun-baked plains region.

Many people in the region adhere to numerous folk religions, such as a sect that venerates the Indian goddess Maria Lionza.

The Roman Catholic Church considers the religions and their respective rituals idolatrous. But the clergy have come to tolerate them, partly because they have flourished and cut across racial groups and class lines.

Many adherents suffering from illnesses pray to the folk deities or offer them animal sacrifices in return improved health or cures.

Speaking from the balcony of presidential palace during an event to celebrate his birthday last week, Chavez thanked spiritual idols from Los Llanos and singled out Maria Lionza, whose image appeared before a young Indian alongside a river centuries ago.

Chavez and his doctors are considering whether he should return to Cuba for his second phase of chemotherapy or receive the treatment in Venezuela.

The president spent a week in Cuba last month for his first round of chemotherapy.

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