Venezuela: Chavez in good condition after surgery

February 28, 2012 - 11:25 PM
Venezuela Chavez Cancer

A man holds a poster of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez as he reads a paper in Bolivar Square in Caracas, Venezuela, Tuesday Feb. 28, 2012. Doctors successfully extracted a tumor from Chavez's pelvic region and he was stable and recovering Tuesday with family at his side, his vice president announced. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)

CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — Doctors successfully extracted a tumor from Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's pelvic region and he was stable and recovering in Cuba on Tuesday with family at his side, his vice president announced.

"President Chavez is in good physical condition," Vice President Elias Jaua told the main chamber of the National Assembly, prompting a standing ovation and cries of "Onward, comandante!"

"A total extraction of the diagnosed pelvic lesion was performed, removing also the tissue surrounding the lesion," Jaua said, reading a statement from the office of the presidency. "There were no complications related to the local organs."

Jaua did not say when Chavez had the surgery, but said the socialist leader was stable and recovering adequately. The Venezuelan president had said the growth was likely cancerous, but there was no immediate word on whether it was malignant.

Youth Minister Mari Pili Hernandez said there were no complications with the surgery.

"The operation was a success, everything went well," Hernandez said during an interview on state television. "The president did not require intensive care. That was one of the possible scenarios."

The precise nature of Chavez's cancer has not been divulged.

Dr. Sebastian Quintero, an oncologist in neighboring Colombia, said the announcement doesn't add anything to what little is publicly known about Chavez's cancer.

"They have not said anything different from what was already known: that he has a tumor in the area of the pelvis," Quintero said. "The pelvis is a large cavity with several organs inside, including the prostate, part of the bladder, part of the colon, so it's difficult to determine in what part the tumor is based."

"We're left the same as before."

Jaua said studies of the removed tissue would be available "in the coming hours," but he did not say whether the results would be made public.

The president, who has not delegated authority during his absence, was in close contact with government officials, Jaua said.

Chavez, 57, announced last week that doctors in Cuba had found a new growth about one inch (two centimeters) in diameter in the same area where a baseball-size cancerous tumor was removed last summer.

He traveled to Cuba on Friday and said he would undergo tests over the weekend and have the operation early this week.

But until Tuesday there was no additional official word on Chavez's health, leaving the rumor mill free to churn unchallenged. Some reports speculated about a purportedly dire prognosis, but none could be confirmed or named their sources.

"I was worried because he's a human being and president of the country," said 37-year-old bookseller Cristina Gonzalez, adding that in recent days Chavez's health has been the talk of customers at her streetside stand in central Caracas. "He has done much for the country. I hope he recovers."

She expressed gratitude to Chavez for social programs benefiting the poor, but said inevitably someone else will have to take on his mantle someday.

"Yes, there could be another person (as president) because nobody lives forever," Gonzalez said. "But right now, he's the one."

Chavez and his allies have said the president is still his party's only candidate for October elections.

"I don't know what to believe. One day he's cured, the next day he has to have surgery again," said Esther Manrique, a 24-year-old homemaker. "We'll have to wait. With time, the truth comes out. I think he's tricking us. Let's see if he is able to campaign or not; that will let us know how he really is."

Chavez's opponent in the vote, Henrique Capriles, has wished his rival a speedy and full recovery.

Venezuelan journalist Nelson Bocaranda, who is considered sympathetic to the anti-Chavez opposition and first broke the news last week that Chavez had again seen doctors in Cuba, said the president had been operated on Monday night.

There were no signs of stepped-up security Tuesday outside a Havana military hospital where many have speculated the surgery might take place, and patients came and went through the hospital doors as normal.

The parking lot outside the Cimeq facility was filled with vehicles sporting the green license plates of Cuba's Interior Ministry, but few diplomatic plates could be seen. Venezuelan Embassy vehicles all have black license plates beginning with the number 223, and none were present.

Cuba authorities often lay on extra police to protect important visitors, and even close off entire neighborhoods for high-level meetings. But traffic outside Cimeq was moving as normal on Tuesday.

The statement from the presidency thanked Venezuelans for their support as well as former and current Cuban presidents Fidel and Raul Castro, Chavez's doctors and the Cuban people.

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Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Jorge Rueda in Caracas and Paul Haven in Havana contributed to this report.