Latin America & Caribbean

Hugo Chavez cancer claim doctor flees Venezuela

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez delivers a speech on returning to Venezuela, on 20 October 2011.
Image caption Venezuela's President says he is free of cancer

A doctor who said Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez had only two years to live has fled the country saying he fears for his life.

Medical officials said police had visited Dr Salvador Navarrete's office after his comments were published last week.

The doctor said that President Chavez had a very aggressive form of cancer.

On Thursday, Mr Chavez returned from a medical check-up in Cuba saying he was cured.

Dr Navarrete treated Mr Chavez around 10 years ago and has stayed in touch with members of the president's family and medical team.

In an interview with a Mexican magazine, Milenio, published last Monday, Dr Navarrete said he had information from the family that the president was suffering from a serious form of cancer - a sarcoma - in his pelvis.

"I'm worried that the president and those around him do not know the full magnitude of his illness given it has been handled with complete secrecy," he said.

'Top marks'

The BBC's Sarah Grainger in Caracas says that that is in sharp contrast to the picture the president has painted of his illness.

Arriving back in Caracas on Thursday following a check-up with doctors in Cuba, Hugo Chavez said he had beaten cancer and that his body was free of malignant cells.

In an open letter published by Venezuelan newspapers on Friday, Dr Navarrete claimed that police had searched files and computers at his office and he had been forced to flee the country with his family to an undisclosed location.

There has been an enormous amount of speculation in Venezuela about Mr Chavez's illness since he announced in June that he was being treated for cancer.

He has released few details about his illness, fuelling speculation that it may be worse than officially stated.

But the 57-year-old president insists he is well enough to run in the 2012 elections and serve another six-year term.

Mr Chavez travelled to Cuba four months ago for surgery, and says he has had four cycles of chemotherapy.

"Everything went perfectly. I got top marks, 20 out of 20," he told reporters on returning to Venezuela on Thursday.

Mr Chavez has been in power since 1999, and has transformed Venezuela with sweeping nationalisations.

Last month, he denied US media reports that he had been rushed to hospital with kidney failure linked to his cancer treatment.

Doctors warn that patients must generally wait at least two years after treatment before they can be considered out of danger.

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