(AFP) – Apr 22, 2012
CARACAS — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been keeping an atypically low profile as he undergoes cancer treatment in Cuba, prompting his ministers to speak out to quell rumors his health had worsened.
Since arriving in Havana last week for a final round of radiation therapy, the 57-year-old Chavez -- usually onmipresent in state media -- has only communicated via Twitter and written statements, with no TV appearances.
The last new message on his Twitter feed appeared on Saturday. Some critics suggested the firebrand leftist president may have taken a turn for the worse, and slammed what they called his ruling from abroad by tweet.
But his ministers quickly rallied behind their leader, saying nothing was wrong.
"The only one on his last leg is that piece of nothing," Information Minister Andres Izarra said on Twitter, using a barb Chavez often uses to describe his rival in the October 7 presidential election, Henrique Capriles.
"Chavez, (Foreign Minister) Nicolas (Maduro) and I worked for a while this afternoon. Labor law and productive economy were the topics," Science and Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza said on his Twitter account.
Chavez had surgery in late February in Havana after a recurrence of the cancer he was originally diagnosed with last year.
He has been undergoing treatment after the removal of a malignant tumor in the same area of his pelvis where another such tumor was removed in June 2011.
Officials in Caracas have never specified the type of cancer Chavez has or exactly where it is, but insist it has not spread to other organs.
Chavez, who has been in power since 1999, is running for a third six-year term as president in the October election. He faces a tough challenge from the youthful united opposition candidate Capriles.
Chavez is the most prominent face of the left in Latin America. He has led and rallied a group of leftist governments that he organized as a counterweight to the United States.
Backed by one of the world's largest oil reserves, Chavez has led the Bolivarian Alternative for the People of Our Americas, or ALBA by its Spanish acronym, and Petrocaribe, a group of countries across the Caribbean basin that receive subsidized Venezuelan oil.
Though polls show him leading Capriles ahead of the election, Chavez is battling public fatigue with his "socialist revolution," an unstable economy with soaring inflation, and rampant street crime.
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