Sources report that Venezuelan President Hugo Rafael Chávez Frías slid into a coma the day before he died of respiratory failure after cancer spread into his lungs. Chávez’s precise condition was one of the world’s best-kept secrets ever since he announced that he had cancer in June 2011. However, since his death this week, details emerged of the 58-year-old president’s battle with cancer and his last moments in hospital with close family and senior aides. One government source told Reuters, referring to ministers’ visits to the Havana and Caracas hospitals where he spent his final weeks, unable to speak and breathing through a tube, “They used iPads and other tools to give him policy presentations”. When it was time to appoint a new Foreign Minister, aides showed Chávez a list of several possible names, and he put a tick-mark beside one… Elías José Jaua Milano… before signing the document.
After he announced in 2011 that doctors detected cancer in his pelvic area, and had a “baseball-sized” tumour removed, Chávez insisted on the most restricted discretion over the publication of the details of his health. That was one reason that he chose to have treatment in Cuba, where his friendship with past and present leaders Fidel and Raúl Castro Ruz and the ruling Communist Party‘s firm grip on information guaranteed him such discretion. Chávez spent several months there on various visits, and underwent four operations, the last of which on 11 December was the most complicated. His last words to aides before flying to Havana for that operation were, “I’ll be back for sure”. Indeed, Chávez did fly home, but in such a bad state, that he couldn’t appear in public. Two sources said that he died of respiratory failure on Tuesday afternoon after the cancer had metastasised into his lungs.
A medical source said that during two initial operations in mid-2011, Chávez had a tumour removed from his intestines, and doctors diagnosed sarcoma in the psoas muscle that runs from the lower part of the vertebral column to the pelvis. Though chemotherapy and radiotherapy kept the disease at bay and allowed him to run for re-election in October 2012, Chávez took heavy doses of medicines to enable him to make some heavily-staged campaign appearances, albeit in much pain. On the last day of the campaign, standing for hours under a heavy rainfall, Chávez could bear it no longer, so, he cancelled a final rally. After he won the 7 October election by an impressive 11 percentage points, an exhausted and suffering Chávez made only a few more public appearances before he had to return to Cuba a few weeks later.
The 11 December operation lasted six hours and left Chávez in a dire state, haemorrhaging, with a severe lung infection. He lost his pulse several times during the surgery and doctors had to resuscitate him. A medical source said that Cuban doctors designed a special antibiotic to counter the infection, but even so, Chávez had to undergo a tracheotomy to enable him to breathe through a tube in his windpipe. In his last few days, a heavily-medicated Chávez met only with his closest family and aides despite clamour from his Venezuelan supporters… and opponents… to see him. They didn’t even allow one of his closest friends and allies, Bolivia‘s leftist President Juan Evo Morales Ayma, in to see him on his visits to Caracas and Havana. On Saturday, government ministers were with him for about five hours, before a rapid deterioration began. He slipped into a coma on Monday and died at 16.25 VET (12.55 PST. 15.55 EST. 20.55 UTC. 00.55 MSK Wednesday. 07.55 Wednesday AEST) on Tuesday.
10 March 2013
Voice of Russia World Service