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Venezuela's Chavez dismisses reports of poor recovery

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 6:04 PM EDT, Thu September 29, 2011
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tosses a baseball in the air during a press event at the presidential palace Miraflores.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez tosses a baseball in the air during a press event at the presidential palace Miraflores.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • NEW: "This is like a soap opera," Chavez says
  • Chavez appears before reporters, saying he is fine
  • He says he spoke with Iranian president about freeing 2 U.S. hikers
  • A newspaper reports Hugo Chavez was hospitalized for failing kidneys

(CNN) -- In response to a report that his health was failing and that he had been rushed to the hospital, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez said Thursday that he had the best proof that his recovery from chemotherapy is advancing fine.

"I'm here; this is my answer," Chavez told reporters at the presidential palace, raising his arms and gesturing at his body.

The president announced in June that doctors had removed a cancerous tumor from his body. He underwent chemotherapy in Cuba the following month.

Wearing a red track suit and a baseball cap, Chavez appeared to be his old talkative self Thursday, running through the "irresponsible" newspaper report paragraph by paragraph and answering questions from reporters for more than an hour.

The Nuevo Herald, citing two unidentified sources who said they were witnesses, reported Thursday that Chavez had been taken to a military hospital on Tuesday because of kidney complications. The report said doctors were considering moving the president to a private hospital where he could be better attended.

But Chavez told the state-run broadcaster VTV in a telephone call that he was recovering well from his fourth round of chemotherapy. Then he called for the afternoon news conference at the palace.

Before answering questions from a crowd of watching reporters, the leftist left-hander threw a softball with his aides and then switched to a hardball.

"I'm going to start practicing baseball or softball, both things," he said. "I'm anxious. My legs are asking for a little running, jogging, some sun. Being in the barracks for too long is not good for a man who's used to being at the forefront. But, well, we have to follow the rhythms of medical science."

Asked by a U.S. reporter what type of cancer he has, Chavez -- who said he was recuperating from his last round of chemotherapy, which ended 11 days ago -- would not specify.

"I am my own answer," he said. "And the life that I will live from now on -- with the favor of God -- will be my response."

But he said that his last medical examination had yielded "very positive results." That extended to his cholesterol level, which he said he had been watching for many years. "It's normal now, but it could be lower," he said.

He said he retained an appetite.

"I'm eating. I'm 90 kilos. I used to weigh 84. Of course, I'm not doing a lot of exercise. I'm doing light exercise, but when I start to run and to hit balls and steal second base ..."

About his cancer, the president said only that a tumor the size of a baseball had been removed from his body in a six-hour operation carried out in Cuba in June and that it was cancerous.

"Fortunately, for those who love me and for me, it was encapsulated," implying that it might have metastasized had it ruptured. "The body was protecting itself," he said.

Referring to reports that the cancer affected his colon and his kidneys, he said, "All that is false."

And responding to media reports that he is dying, he said, "Here I am." But, he acknowledged, "I'm not in my best form. I used to box." He compared his foot movements to those of former heavyweight champion Muhammad Ali, whom he referred to by his given name of Cassius Clay.

The disinformation is part of a campaign that "many media outlets, including some represented here," were part of, he said. "It's a morbid thing. Morbid. It's morbid, obscene, inhumane. But, oh, well, that's how things are in the world, right?"

He added, "This is like a soap opera."

The president also revealed that he had been one of the voices calling for the release of two American hikers in Iran.

Josh Fattal and Shane Bauer were detained for two years before being released this month.

Chavez said that he called and wrote to Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad seeking the hikers' release at the behest of actor Sean Penn. Chavez said he considers Penn a friend, and after the two spoke about the hikers, he agreed to add his voice directly with the Iranian president.

"If this call and message helped a little, I am glad. Even if it didn't, " he said.

Last week, a representative for Penn confirmed a report that Penn had flown to Venezuela months ago to speak about the hikers' plight with Chavez.

CNN's Rafael Romo contributed to this story

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