President Hugo Chavez appeared before journalists to deny reports his health had taken a turn for the worse, saying he was “doing well” as he recovers from cancer treatment.
The Venezuelan president showed up at the Miraflores presidential palace wearing a baseball cap and glove, tossing a ball as he commented about his health and denounced what he called a “morbid, crass and inhumane campaign” against him.
“I want to play ball, I’m itching to go,” the 57-year-old Chavez said in his first public appearance in a week.
His comments came after the Miami-based Spanish language El Nuevo Herald, citing anonymous sources, said Chavez was rushed to a military hospital for emergency care following kidney failure.
One source told the newspaper the leftist leader was “in fairly serious overall condition.”
But Chavez was quick to hit back at the claims.
“I’m doing well, I’m recovering day by day. Much discipline is required for that and I have it,” the firebrand leftist leader said in a telephone interview early in the day with state broadcaster VTV before his public appearance.
“I’m doing well despite hearing… the rumors spreading last night, and I ask Venezuelans not to take heed of rumors.”
The president, an anti-US stalwart, insisted that “nothing out of the ordinary” had happened during his recovery and that the rumors he was gravely ill “seek to create uncertainty.”
Though Chavez insisted he was carrying on with many duties, he acknowledged that he was working at “half-speed” in compliance with his medical treatment.
In Chavez’s hour-long phone interview with VTV he discussed public events and rallied his supporters ahead of elections next year.
After undergoing a fourth round of chemotherapy in Cuba last week, Chavez sought to assure Venezuelans he was healthy, telling them on Sunday that chemotherapy treatment had not left him with any debilitating side effects.
Chavez — who has authorized no one else to discuss his health and has kept the exact nature of his illness shrouded in secrecy — had a cancerous tumor removed on June 20 in Havana.
Officials have said the tumor was removed from the president’s “pelvic area” but have given no other details.
The report by El Nuevo Herald newspaper late Wednesday said Chavez was rushed to hospital on Tuesday.
“When he arrived, he was in quite serious shape and that is why he was brought in for emergency care,” a source told the paper.
After returning to Caracas and giving a brief statement last Friday, Chavez stayed uncharacteristically out of the media spotlight, and the silence of a leader who has been omnipresent in Venezuelan public life revived the mystery surrounding his health.
Chavez has been in power since 1999 and has said he will recover in time to win re-election by a “knock-out” in 2012, but his cancer has forced Venezuelans to contemplate the prospect of political life without the longtime leader.
Opposition politician Leopoldo Lopez, 40, registered as a candidate over the weekend, and put Chavez on notice that he is “committed to defeating him at the ballot box” next year.
But Chavez insisted that “those who hate me and wish me ill, they will be disappointed. I’m fine and I’ll be recovered soon.”