Rumors are swirling online and in Latin American news media, that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez faces a grave threat to his health, after a Spanish newspaper reported that the Venezuelan leader is near death.
An article published Tuesday by conservative Spanish daily ABC citing unnamed sources said Chávez had been put into an induced coma and was on life support. The article contradicted statements by Venezuelan Vice President Nicolás Maduro, who said Tuesday in an interview with state-funded broadcaster Telesur that he had spoken with Chávez and described him as having “enormous strength.”
“What is behind these lies?” Maduro said, according to The Guardian. “Evil and hatred. Rightwing journalists sickened with hatred. They have no limits. They don't know how to respect the feelings of [the president's] daughters. They are capable of mockery and, in doing so, they reveal their sickened souls."
Members of Chávez’s family also said his condition is stable. Chávez’s son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, who serves as Minister of Science, Technology and Innovation, tweeted “Compatriots, do NOT believe in badly intentioned rumors. President Chávez has passed the day calmly and stable, accompanied by his children.”
The ABC article, saying it has sources close to Chávez’s medical team, paints an ugly picture. The piece says Chávez has a constant fever, won’t respond to antibiotics, hasn’t eaten solid food for three weeks, had 20 inches of intestine removed and a tracheotomy, among other health complications. A slew of Latin American news sites summarized the story, feeding rumors that Chávez’s health has taken a turn for the worse.
Despite official urging to ignore unconfirmed reports about Chávez’s health, the secrecy surrounding the 58-year-old president’s cancer, originally made public in June 2011, has provided fertile ground for rumors. To this day, the Venezuelan government has not revealed the location of the orginal tumor, first discussed publicly in June 2011, or the extent to which the cancer has spread.
ABC isn’t the only one saying Chávez has taken a turn for the worse. José Rafael Marquina, a high-profile Venezuelan doctor who lives in Florida and says he has access to sources close Chávez’s medical team, also says the Venezuelan president is close to death.
“[Chávez] continues on artificial support at this point they are only prolonging unnecessary suffering,” Marquina, an opponent of Chávez who has publicly excoriated the Venezuelan president in the past, tweeted Wednesday.
Whether or not the rumors are true, it’s clear that Chávez is not well. He hasn’t been seen in public since his last surgery in Havana on Dec. 11. While government officials haven’t given detailed information about Chávez’s health, Maduro said in a televised interview that the Venezuelan leader was in a “delicate” state.
The lack of information has angered many. #DiganlaverdadsobreChavez, meaning “Tell the truth about Chávez,” was trending on Twitter in Venezuela on Wednesday.
If Chávez’s health deteriorates to the point where he cannot assume the presidency, the Constitution requires the government to call new elections within 30 days. The inauguration is scheduled for Jan. 10.