Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is once again in Havana to receive radiation therapy just as the island is preparing to welcome Pope Benedict XVI.
Chavez arrived at the Havana airport about midnight on Saturday looking “very animated” as he deplaned and was received by his Cuban counterpart Raul Castro with “a warm embrace of welcome,” according to Cuban press reports on Sunday.
A little more than a week has passed since Chavez finished his 21-day stay (from Feb. 24 to March 16) in Cuba, during which time he was operated on to remove a malignant tumor two centimeters (0.8 inches) in diameter, a recurrence of the cancer he was operated on for in June 2011, also in Cuba.
The Venezuelan leader began his radiation therapy in Havana after this latest operation, treatment that will take between four and five weeks, although it is possible that he might receive some radiation sessions in Venezuela.
“I’m going to be coming and going,” Chavez said on Saturday in Caracas, although he said he would be returning to his country in “a few days.”
On this occasion, the Venezuelan leaders arrival in Havana came as the island is involved in preparations to welcome Pope Benedict XVI, who is making the second Latin American visit of his papacy to Mexico and Cuba.
After visiting Mexico, the pontiff on Monday will begin his visit to Cuba in the eastern city of Santiago, where he will be greeted by President Raul Castro and where he will preside over his first open-air Mass on the island.
On Tuesday, March 27, Benedict XVI will visit the sanctuary of the Virgen del Cobre, the island’s patron saint, and will fly to Havana, where he will conclude his trip on Wednesday after a Mass in the Plaza de la Revolucion that is predicted to be heavily attended by the religious faithful.
Chavez’s stay in Cuba during the papal visit has invited speculation that the pontiff might meet with him in Havana, although that possibility has not been officially confirmed or commented upon to date.
“It is being commented upon that Chavez, Fidel, Raul Castro and Benedict XVI could meet in Havana,” wrote a Cuban government blogger known as Yohandry on Twitter on Sunday.
However, from Leon, Mexico, Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi told reporters covering the pontiff’s trip to that country that “nothing is known about that (Chavez’s trip), but I don’t think there’s any concrete possibility that they will meet. It would surprise me greatly.”
Chavez was operated on on June 10, 2011, for a pelvic abscess in Havana just as he was finishing up a tour of Brazil, Ecuador and Cuba and later cancer was detected in the same area.
Later, he returned to the island on six other occasions (including this one) to receive chemotherapy or undergo medical checkups or procedures.
During Chavez’s stays in Cuba, the island’s authorities have maintained absolute silence regarding his health and the Venezuelan leader and members of his government have released only a very limited amount of information on his condition or treatment.
Chavez, who has denied that his cancer has metastized, is running for reelection for the third time in the Oct. 7 election against opposition candidate Henrique Capriles.
Venezuela is the main political ally and biggest trading partner for Cuba, and bilateral trade went from $200 million in 2005 to more than $6 billion in 2010, a volume comprising almost 40 percent of the Communist-run island’s total trade.
Venezuela furnishes Cuba with 100,000 barrels of crude oil each day, which Havana pays for by providing medical, educational and sports services.