Sun, Oct 23, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Doctor who spoke of Chavez’s cancer leaves Venezuela

Reuters, CARACAS

A doctor who forecast Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez would die of cancer within two years said on Friday he had left the country with his family after colleagues reported police visiting his consultancy.

Salvador Navarrete, who attended Chavez a decade ago and is in touch with some relatives and members of his medical team, caused an uproar in Venezuela with comments last weekend that the president had a serious cancer — sarcoma — in the pelvis.

Chavez allies accused him of “morbid” motives and “necrophilia.” Then his version was directly contradicted by Chavez, who returned from tests in Cuba on Thursday declaring he was free of malignant cells.

Medical personnel say police visited Navarrete’s office earlier earlier this week at Caracas’s Avila Clinic, checking files and computers, while the doctor was not present.

In an open letter published by local media, Navarrete said he wanted to “show his face” and have a public discussion about Chavez’s health, but had felt obliged to leave to an undisclosed location given the furor.

“Events forced me to leave the country abruptly, something I neither wanted nor had planned to do,” Navarrete wrote.

Chavez’s health is the all-consuming issue for the South American OPEC member nation of 29 million people a year ahead of a presidential election where he wants to be re-elected.

In his letter, Navarrete said the interview with Mexico’s Milenio Semanal magazine was intended to combat official secrecy over Chavez’s condition.

“I’m worried that the president and those around him do not know the full magnitude of his illness given it has been handled with complete secrecy,” he said. “The consequences of a fatal outcome, and the importance of informing both those who support him and those who oppose him, were the reasons that led me to tackle this delicate subject.”

The flamboyant socialist leader’s assurance he is fit and ready to begin his election campaign has met with skepticism from doctors, who say no cancer patient can be considered free from danger until at least two years after treatment.

Analysts, too, have seen an element of classic Chavez political theater in his fanfare homecoming from medical tests in Cuba followed by an open-top caravan to a regional Catholic shrine where he prayed and gave thanks for his recovery.

Supporters, though, are thrilled at the return of their “Comandante,” who declared that his improvement was a “miracle.”

Navarrete ratified his original prognosis of Chavez.

“His physical disappearance right now could be more traumatic than politicians realize,” he added in the letter.

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