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Venezuela's Chavez appears chipper, energetic on state TV

By Helena DeMoura and Catherine E. Shoichet, CNN
updated 4:22 PM EDT, Sun June 3, 2012
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez delivers a speech during a visit from Belarus' deputy prime minister in Caracas.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez delivers a speech during a visit from Belarus' deputy prime minister in Caracas.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • "What a lovely breeze, what lovely weather," a cheerful Chavez says
  • State-run VTV shows Chavez walking a long hallway with Belorussian leaders
  • Speculation continues to swirl about his health and political future
  • Journalist Dan Rather describes the Venezuelan president's situation as "dire"

(CNN) -- Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, dogged by widespread speculation about his health, appeared chipper and energetic in a television appearance over the weekend.

"What a lovely breeze, what lovely weather," Chavez said Saturday as he opened a meeting with a delegation from Belarus several weeks before President Alexander Lukashenko's scheduled visit to the South American nation.

State-run VTV showed Chavez walking down a long hall with the Belarusian delegation before delivering a speech on the front steps of the palace.

For Chavez, a year of health struggles

Facing a row of cameras, the Venezuelan president spoke effusively about his Bolivarian revolution, football, friends and the weather.

Live television appearances have long been common for the Venezuelan president, but have dwindled in recent months as he undergoes cancer treatment.

'City of dreams' under construction

On Tuesday, the Venezuelan president spoke for several hours, making no mention of his health, during a cabinet meeting that was broadcast live, .

Eleven months after Chavez first announced his cancer diagnosis, Venezuelan officials have released few details about his treatment. Neither Chavez nor anyone in his government have publicly discussed what kind of cancer he has or provided a detailed prognosis for the 57-year-old leader.

In May, Chavez said he had successfully completed his latest cycle of radiation therapy.

"This week I have been holed up, working, rigorously following the doctor's orders to recuperate as soon as possible from the effects of the radiation therapy. And I am recuperating gradually," he said in a May 18 telephone interview with VTV.

But speculation has continued to swirl about the president's political future, and for months many have turned to media accounts for information on Chavez's health.

Last week, a report from veteran U.S. television journalist Dan Rather described Chavez's health situation as "dire," citing an unidentified source's assessment that the Venezuelan president may not see the final results of the October elections due to the progression of his cancer.

"This reporter has been told that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has metastatic rhabdomyosarcoma, an aggressive cancer that has 'entered the end stage,'" Rather said on the website for his HDNet show "Dan Rather Reports."

Rather, a longtime CBS News anchor and "60 Minutes" correspondent, said the information came from a "highly respected source close to Chavez and who is in a position to know his medical condition and history."

However, Rather said that "there is only one source for identifying the cancer and the prognosis quoted in the first part of the story."

He did not disclose the source of his report, which has not been confirmed by CNN.

The report -- which also referred to Chavez as a "dictator" -- drew swift ire from the Venezuelan government. The next day, the nation's information ministry distributed an editorial from close Chavez ally Eva Golinger titled, "Shame on You, Dan Rather."

"Dan Rather has always emphasized the necessity of 'courage' in reporting, yet he shows cowardice and sloppy ambition by racing to publish unconfirmed reports on President Chavez's health, and by touting slanderous epithets to describe the Venezuelan head of state," Golinger wrote.

Golinger said Chavez was "a far cry from being on his 'death bed,' as Rather implies."

"Chavez has cancer, and he is fighting it hard, with the same strength he has used to propel his nation forward, often against the toughest obstacles," she wrote.

Chavez, who has ruled oil-rich Venezuela since 1999, is a controversial figure with outspoken, antagonistic views toward the United States.

His pro-Cuban, socialist policies are also controversial domestically and have increasingly polarized the nation and national media, according to the Atlanta-based Carter Center, which provided election monitors in the nation's 2006 presidential elections.

Recent polls have offered different assessments of how Chavez's health could impact Venezuelan voters when they cast their ballots on October 7.

According to the Datanalisis polling firm, Chavez's popularity stood at about 49% last year. The pro-government GIS XXI reports that 86% of the population admires how he has handled his illness and 45.7% said Chavez's health hadn't affected the national political situation.

CNN affiliate Globovision TV reported that polling firm Varianzas, which claims to be independent and has no international affiliation, puts Chavez at a 51.3% percent lead in the latest polls ahead of his opponent, Henrique Capriles Radonski, who registered a 46.5%.

Varianzas President Rafael Delgado told reporters in May that the October presidential elections will be very close, and trends could quickly change depending on campaigning styles and economic trends.

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