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Venezuela's Chavez says surgery forces slower pace
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Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez (C) talks to soldiers as he attends a ceremony at the military academy in Caracas July 7, 2011.
Credit: Reuters/Miraflores Palace/Handout
By Andrew Cawthorne and Pascal Fletcher
Thu Jul 7, 2011 4:01pm EDT
CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuela's convalescing President Hugo Chavez showed he was still boss on Thursday with an upbeat visit to a military base but said cancer surgery was forcing him to slow a famously punishing style of leadership.
"I mustn't overdo it, I need to rein in the old horse," Chavez told military cadets at Caracas' Fuerte Tiuna base.
Though back to his folksy, chatty self in some ways, the 56-year-old socialist leader -- who had a malignant tumor removed last month in Cuba -- showed some discomfort in walking, looked paler than usual and spoke extensively about his new regime.
Famous for swilling coffee, burning the midnight oil and a whirlwind style of government including telephone calls to aides at all hours, Chavez said his personal routine was now strictly controlled, cut back to "bath, supper and bed."
The charismatic Chavez has reasserted political domination of the OPEC nation he has ruled since 1999 with a surprise return to Caracas this week that electrified supporters, calmed his inner circle and left opponents struggling how to respond.
Doubts remain over health, however, and whether he can both continue to govern Venezuela effectively and keep his 2012 re-election aspiration on track.
One source close to Chavez's doctors told Reuters he has colon cancer and faces lengthy chemotherapy treatment.
There has been no confirmation of that, however, and senior government figures say he is recovering well.
Announcing a "supreme return" that he said would take his political career to 2021, Chavez exhorted the next generation of soldiers to watch their health. He has acknowledged neglecting his own.
"I'm in a fight, one of life's ambushes," the former paratrooper said. "One thing I want to remind you -- look after your health."
On his visit to the military base, Chavez showed his usual attention to detail -- asking soldiers about their lunch menu -- before giving a half-hour address. That was short for a man famous for garrulous hours-long speeches on a daily basis.
Chavez, who graduated from the same Caracas military academy, has made the armed forces a pillar of his leftist self-styled revolution and he took pleasure in drilling the cadets and singing the academy anthem along with them.
Senior military officers wore tracksuits, like Chavez.
"We will live, we will conquer, Amen!" Chavez told them.
Since his treatment in Cuba, Chavez has removed the word "death" from his public vocabulary in an apparently emotional reaction to what he has been through in recent weeks.
The fiery orator had for years often finished speeches with the cry: "Fatherland, Socialism or Death!"
He mocked rumors among his detractors that his illness has been invented or exaggerated to shore up his popularity ahead of next year's presidential election.
"After two operations, some say it's a lie," he said. "This morning I read something incredible -- that this was an invention of Fidel Castro and Chavez...If you could see my abdomen, which I won't show obviously, there are so many stitches."
Chavez said he had June 10 surgery in Cuba for a pelvic abscess and another June 20 operation to remove the tumor in an unspecified part of his body. The unanswered question is whether the cancer has spread or was removed completely.
"It's a difficult illness, but I promise you we will live and conquer ... It's been a positive recovery in this first stage, but now there are other stages."
Following big gains last week after Chavez's announcement that he had been operated on for cancer, Venezuela's widely-traded debt has been fluctuating in recent sessions.
The benchmark dollar-denominated 2027 global bond rose 2.25 points to bid at 77.500 with a yield of 12.522 percent.
Markets had initially interpreted Chavez's sickness as positive news for investors, hoping it meant a change to more business-friendly leadership. But fears of political chaos in a power vacuum have also crept in.
"The image of the invincible revolutionary has been severely damaged. This will create doubts among voters about the suitability of Chavez continuing in the presidency," Russ Dallen, head trader at BBO Financial in Caracas, said in a report.
Local media say Chavez is preparing a cabinet reshuffle to shore up support during a difficult period.
(Additional reporting by Daniel Wallis, Eyanir Chinea, Diego Ore; Editing by Vicki Allen)
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