In a dictatorship, the leader is always in very good health. If anyone dares to say the contrary, he is in trouble. Last October 10, the Mexican weekly magazine Milenio Semanal published an article about the state of health of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. The article was a long interview with Dr. Salvador Navarrete Aulestia, a Venezuela physician who was part of the team of doctors who took care of the president's health from 2002 to the moment Chavez recently decided to get treatment in Cuba.

Dr. Navarrete revealed to the media for the first time that, in the past, Chavez had suffered from manic-depressive problems and that he was still under treatment to moderate his alternating states of euphoria and despair. He explained that at times Chavez's personality completely detaches from reality. Dr. Navarrete disgnosed the illness as bipolar disorder, and explained that Chavez oscillates between the two poles, with a greater tendency to euphoria and hyperactivity.

The part of the interview that made the world headlines, however, was when Dr. Navarrete spoke about the nature of Chavez's cancer and its gravity. He explained that the president is affected by a tumor in the pelvis called sarcoma. "The information that I received from his family is that he has a sarcoma, a very aggressive tumor with a very dire prognosis," Dr. Navarrete said, concluding that the life expectancy for Chavez was a period of up to "two years."

Soon after the interview, the media reported that Dr. Navarrete received a visit by Venezuelan state intelligence officials who allegedly threatened him and told him to leave the country. As reported by the Wall Street Journal, the Venezuelan physician tried soon after to explain that his comments on Chavez's health were taken out of context. In an open letter to the opposition newspaper Tal Cual, the doctor tried to justify himself by saying that he was not a "traitor" to the country, and that he regretted that the interview was distorted by the interviewer. He then confirmed that circumstances "obligated me to leave the country with my family in an abrupt manner, something that I did not want and did not plan to do."

The Venezuelan regime responded to Dr. Navarrete's interview with a declaration from a team of three Venezuelan doctors who stated that President Hugo Chavez was in optimal health after undergoing cancer treatment. The group of doctors also argued on a televised statement that Chavez had never been a patient of Dr. Navarrete, adding that Dr. Navarrete was guilty of "scientific negligence, daring to make diagnoses and prognoses without the necessary medical information, which we reiterate is completely unknown to him."

Venezuela's Minister of Health, Eugenia Sader, also said that statements made by Dr. Navarrete were just a "media show." "It is part of a smear campaign […]. He [Dr. Navarrete] said that het had to leave the country, but he and his children were already living in Spain. He has not been persecuted," the minister added. Dr. Navarrete's opinion was later contradicted by Hugo Chavez himself, who, on his return from Cuba, said that he was completely free of malignant cells. "The new Chavez is back in the street," he said. "We will live!"

Chavez's state of health is the number one issue in Venezuela, as presidential elections will take place in a year, October 2012. An ailing candidate would not be very attractive for the electorate. But Chavez appears to be overly confident about the outcome of the elections. "It will be easier for a donkey to pass through the eye of a needle than for the opposition to win the elections,"he said..

Despite his optimism, independent specialists agree that it might take two years before he can be considered out of danger. "No matter what kind of cancer he was treated for, it's just too early to tell," said one cancer expert to Reuters, and then asked not to be named. But such a state of uncertainty is apprently unacceptable to the Venezuelan regime's propaganda machine. According to the state-run Venezuelan media, President Hugo Chavez is the healthiest person in the world.

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