CARACAS, Venezuela — Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will return to Cuba today for more cancer treatment, just weeks after winning a hard-fought presidential election to push his tenure to two decades.
The self-styled socialist president was given permission by the country’s National Assembly to fly to Havana for treatment, six months after his last radiation therapy there.
Chavez spent much time over the campaign shuttling between Caracas and Havana and has been silent for the last two weeks, rare for the outspoken 58-year-old.
The treatment this time, according to a letter from Chavez read out by ally and leader of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello, will involve sessions of hyperbaric oxygen as well as physiotherapy.
The hyperbaric oxygen treatment involves breathing in pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber at up to three times atmospheric pressure. This raises oxygen levels in tissue and so can assist with radiation necrosis, repairing the once healthy cells that have been damaged by radiation treatment.
The treatment will be familiar to divers who have suffered “the bends.”
The unspecified form of cancer first came to light in June 2011. In his typically histrionic style, Chavez played it to his advantage to supporters, one day crying on state television before rising from the ashes and thanking Christ for saving him.
Earlier this year in February, as his motorcade headed to the airport for treatment in Cuba, Chavez credited God for his cancer survival. "I dreamt a while ago of Christ who came and said, 'Chavez, rise, it is not time to die, it's time to live'. Independent of my personal destiny, this revolution already has its own momentum and will not be stopped," he said.
He has claimed he is now completely free of the cancer, details of which have never been made public. That's fueled much rumor and speculation in this highly polarized country.
After October’s vote, members of the badly bruised opposition, led by Henrique Capriles Radonski, played on their leader’s slogan, “Hay un camino" ("There is a path”) with “Hay un cancer.”
And that may well the opposition’s best bet. Should Chavez die during the first four years of his term, Vice President Nicolas Maduro would take over until new elections were held. If the opposition remains united by this point, it could give Capriles a shot at the presidency.
Chavez is due to be inaugurated in Caracas on Jan. 10, 2013.