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Chavez ‘doing well’ after op

An ebullient-sounding Hugo Chavez said on Thursday he was eating, walking at dawn and recovering fast...

Venezuelean president Hugo Chavez. Picture: SAPA

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An ebullient-sounding Hugo Chavez said on Thursday he was eating, walking at

dawn and recovering fast from an operation on a suspected recurrence of cancer

for the Venezuelan president.

"I'm very happy, I'm fine, my recovery

is accelerating," Chavez said in a phone call to Venezuelan state TV from

Havana where surgeons removed a possibly malignant lesion from his pelvis four

days ago.

The upbeat tone from the 57-year-old socialist leader contrasted with

rumours, mainly in opposition-leaning media, that his condition may be much

worse than has been admitted.

He had two operations to remove a large

tumour last year.

"I was up early, walking like an old

soldier at 6 in the morning," Chavez added in the ten-minute call, giving

details of a diet that included pumpkin soup and yoghurt.

Venezuelans will recall, however, that Chavez

repeatedly pronounced himself completely cured at the end of last year, and

that his ministers have at various points put out misleading information,

including statements denying his latest setback.

Should Chavez's condition be more serious,

that would have huge implications for South America's top oil exporter given

that he is seeking re-election in October and has said he would like to rule

for another decade or two.

The stakes are high, also, for the region.

Cuba, Nicaragua and other leftist governments

in the Caribbean and Central America depend on cheap oil supplies and other

largesse from the Chavez government.

"THOUSANDS OF ORDERS"

Science and Technology Minister Jorge

Arreaza said Chavez met several of his Cabinet members on Wednesday in Havana

to discuss the progress of government welfare plans.

Vice President Elias Jaua said the president

had phoned him overnight and was back to his energetic self.

"He gave me like 300,000 instructions,

asked me to send him things to sign. The president is clearly exercising his

mandate, governing and taking decisions for the people," he said.

With the results of tests due in the coming

days on tissue extracted during the operation, some pro-opposition journalists

inside and outside Venezuela have been citing medical sources to say Chavez's

cancer may have metastasized, or spread.

The government has pilloried them as

right-wing destabilizers, but details on Chavez's condition are scant.

Having thrived on an image of strength and

energy during his 13 years in power, Chavez suffered a blow last year when

doctors discovered a baseball-sized cancerous tumour in his pelvis.

There has been no word on when Chavez will

return home, prompting opposition calls for a replacement to be named.

"We're in the battle here and sooner

rather than later I will be physically with you. Onward to victory always! We

will live and we will conquer!" he said, adding his own catch-phrase to

that of Latin American revolutionary hero Ernesto "Che" Guevara.

ELECTION BATTLE

Former Cuban President Fidel Castro has long

been Chavez's personal and political mentor, and the Venezuelan leader prefers

to go to Havana because there is less chance of media leaks.

Chavez's rival for Venezuela's October 7

election is Henrique Capriles, a 39-year-old state governor who hopes to woo

former Chavez voters with a promise of a Brazilian-style

"modern left" government. He has repeatedly wished Chavez a speedy

recovery "so he can see the changes coming to Venezuela."

Polls show Venezuelans evenly split between

Chavez and the opposition, though they also indicate that the president's

emotional connection with the poor and heavy spending on welfare projects make

him a clear favourite at the ballot box.

Chavez's anxious supporters have been holding

vigils for him across Venezuela, and his friends around Latin America have also

been sending their best wishes.

"Let's give a round of applause to our

comrade Chavez," Bolivia's leftist President Evo Morales said at the

inauguration of a stadium in the Amazon built with Venezuelan aid.

"I spoke to Venezuela's foreign minister

and the president's daughter last night. They said he was happily out of this

second operation and is in recovery ... he feels better than ever."

Timeline

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