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Chavez maintains secrecy as he begins chemotherapy in Cuba

| Monday, July 18, 2011

CARACAS, Venezuela -- In his monthlong fight against cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has placed utmost importance on secrecy, carefully offering only scraps of information about his condition.

As he begins planned chemotherapy in Cuba, Chavez appears to have found the perfect place where he can tightly guard details of his illness and keep the prying eyes of the news media far away.

The Venezuelan leader underwent surgery in the island nation on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. He returned on Saturday night, saying he would be starting a "second phase of treatment."

Typical of the cone of silence Chavez has lowered over his health problems, he hasn't said how long the chemotherapy is likely to last, and there was no immediate confirmation from Cuba or Venezuela that the treatments had begun.

Chavez, 56, had said he would begin the treatments in Havana on Sunday to ensure cancer cells don't reappear. He has also said he has been open about the details of his medical condition.

Maria Teresa Romero, professor of international studies at the Central University of Venezuela, said controlling information about his illness is important for Chavez to maintain his hold on power and an image of strength at home.

"The secrecy, the trust is assured" in Cuba, she said, "which is something that wouldn't be assured if he were treated in Brazil, for example, or here in Venezuela. It would be much more difficult to keep secret everything they are going to do him."

Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba from 2001 to 2004, said Chavez is likely receiving the same sort of protections and accommodations that ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro would expect. Hare was also the deputy head of mission for the British Diplomatic Service in Venezuela from 1994 to 1997.

"Everything there will be arranged as if a member of the Castro family were being treated -- strict secrecy, encrypted communication with Venezuela, transport, etcetera, just as if a favorite son had returned," Hare said.

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