CARACAS — Firebrand Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez insisted that he is “totally” cancer-free and ready to take on what promises to be a tough re-election battle without “physical restrictions.”
“Free, totally free,” he replied when asked by a reporter if he had beaten the disease, as he gears up for the bruising campaign against unified opposition rival Henrique Capriles ahead of the October 7 vote.
“Thanks to God, I am here and every day I feel in better physical condition, and I really don’t think this expression ‘physical restrictions’… will be a factor in the campaign,” he told a news conference.
A little more than a year after revealing his cancer diagnosis, Chavez said he had worked “with a lot of discipline” in order to overcome the disease, adding that his last radiation treatment was two months ago.
Chavez has undergone surgery twice since June 2011 to remove cancerous tumors from his pelvis. The exact location and nature of the cancer has never been revealed.
The 57-year-old Venezuelan leader boasted that he had fully recovered once before, only to have to admit later that he had suffered a recurrence of the disease and would again seek treatment in Cuba.
Chavez has undergone multiple rounds of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in Havana following his surgeries.
The leftist firebrand and frequent critic of the United States has nevertheless pledged victory in the October 7 election showdown with Capriles, the youthful former governor of Miranda state.
“Of course, I am not the same Chavez I was at age 40,” he said, adding he would celebrate his 58th birthday on July 28.
Chavez said he had started jogging again on Sunday, adding: “Maybe soon I’ll be ready to play baseball.”
Most opinion polls put Chavez firmly in the lead, but Capriles is counting on undecided voters — estimated to be 35 percent of the electorate.
Capriles has claimed he will defeat Chavez, even predicting a 10-point margin of victory. He has vowed to tackle what he calls the country’s three main problems — poverty, unemployment and violence.
Chavez, who has been in power since 1999, is facing his first serious election challenge as he vies for a new term that would cement his legacy both at home and abroad as Latin America’s leading leftist.
He could rack up 20 years in office if he is re-elected in October and serves out his full term.
Venezuela’s sometimes fractious opposition has united behind Capriles, a center-leftist who says he admires Brazil’s model of addressing poverty while fostering liberal economic development.
Chavez has scaled back his public appearances in recent months but led a mass rally on July 1 marking the official start of his re-election campaign.
“I would like to first thank Christ the Redeemer for allowing me to get through this difficult year and be with the Venezuelan people to start this battle,” he said in a fiery 90-minute speech.
He said Monday he would lead several campaign rallies later in the week outside the capital Caracas.