Chavez had cancerous tumor removed in Cuba

Hugo Chavez speaking from Cuba about his cancer treatment, June 30, 2011

(CBS/AP) Speaking for the first time in nearly three weeks on state-run VTV Thursday night, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said doctors in Cuba performed emergency surgery to remove a cancerous tumor from his body. The 56-year-old Chavez did not say how long he would remain in Cuba.

Chavez appeared quite weak and thinner than prior to his illness. His voice was emotional and also weak in comparison with his typical, full-throated speeches.

He confirmed that a tumor was found in his pelvic region with cancerous cells, and it was removed in a second operation without complication. 

The diagnosis occurred while he was taking antibiotics after surgery for the removal of a "pelvic abcess." He spoke of the fundamental errors he had made during the course of his life with respect to his health.

Chavez said that he has assumed total responsibility of the Venezuelan government thanks to the medical attention he received in Cuba and the affection of the Venezuelan people, and that throughout the ordeal he has been in touch with the vice president.

He said that the operation took out a growth in which there were "cancerous cells." He said the surgery was done after an initial June 10 operation for the removal of a pelvic abscess and described his situation as "this new battle that life has placed before us."

Chavez read from a prepared speech with a serious expression. He stood at a podium, flanked by the Venezuelan flag and a portrait of 19th century independence hero Simon Bolivar, the namesake of his Bolivarian Revolution political movement.

It was unclear what type of cancer is involved or what Chavez's treatment will be. He said it had been a mistake to not have taken better care of his health through medical checks.

"What a fundamental error," Chavez said.

Chavez did not say how much longer he expected to remain in Cuba recovering.

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The first surgery was for a "strange formation in the pelvic region that required an emergency operation due to the imminent risk of a generalized infection, according to Chavez. After that surgery, he said that doctors began to suspect other problems. A series of tests "confirmed the presence of an abscessed tumor with the presence of cancerous cells, which made necessary a second operation that allowed for the complete extraction of the tumor," he said.

Chavez said his condition has been "evolving satisfactorily while I receive a complementary treatment to combat the different types of cells found, and thereby continue on the path to my complete recovery."

His appearance came after government efforts, including Tuesday's release of photos and video showing Chavez with Fidel Castro, failed to quell growing speculation among Venezuelans that he may be seriously ill.

His aides and family had tried to assure the country that the socialist president was recovering well from his surgery for the pelvic abscess, but they provided no details about his condition and gave no specific time for his return home.

There was no information on when and where Chavez's message was recorded.

He ended the speech with Ernesto Che Guevara's famous refrain, "Hasta la Victoria Siempre, Venceremos!" ("Forever onward toward victory! We will be victorious!") Before finishing, he added: "Until my return!"

After his appearance, some of his closest allies went on state television. National Assembly president Fernando Soto Rojas, standing alongside other supporters, said Chavez is in good hands in Cuba. "We wish for him to get better soon! Onward, commander!"

Future plans unclear

Venezuela's government postponed next week's summit of Latin American leaders Wednesday, citing Chavez's health as he recovers from surgery in Cuba.

The decision to put off the July 5-6 meeting until later this year was announced shortly after new videos aired on state television showing Chavez chatting with Fidel Castro in Cuba, appearing lucid and talkative. Chavez's televised appearance broke a long post-surgery silence that has prompted speculation about his health.

"The president is in the middle of a recuperation process and extremely strict medical treatment," the Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Chavez had been expected to host the summit on the 200th anniversary of Venezuela's independence from Spain. He promoted it as an event to lay the groundwork for a new regional bloc, the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States, that would exclude the United States and Canada.

The Venezuelan Foreign Ministry said it will work with other countries to schedule a new date for the summit in Venezuela later in the year. It remained unclear how soon Chavez might be able to return home.

Chavez has been largely out of sight since the government announced June 10 that he had undergone pelvic surgery. He spoke once in a telephone call to state television two days after the operation, and appeared in photographs alongside both Fidel and Raul Castro that were published June 18.

  • CBS News Staff

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