Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will seek medical treatment in Cuba this week, according to a request submitted to the country’s legislature. Chavez, 58, has been battling an undisclosed type of cancer for more than a year, and said that his doctors recommended that he “begin special treatment consisting of various sessions of hyperbaric oxygenation” and that he undergo physical therapy.
A special session assembled in Maracayapproved Chavez’s request to leave the country, and National Assembly President Diosdad Cabello read the request to a television audience. Though the request said that Chavez could leave for Cuba as soon as Tuesday, the type of treatment was not further specified. Chavez said that he would return in time to be sworn in for his fourth term as president on January 10.
Hyperbaric oxygenation treatment involves the patient breathing pure oxygen while sitting in a sealed, pressurized chamber. Though it has been proven successful in treating a variety of medical conditions including carbon monoxide poisoning and radiation tissue damage, the treatment has not been proven to be effective against cancer, according to the American Cancer Society.
Chavez first sought treatment in Cuba in June 2011, and relapsed in February, though he claimed to have recovered. Since being re-elected in October, Chavez has made few public appearances, leading to speculation on his health. He was last seen on November 15 during a televised meeting. The possibility that Chavez may not be able to complete his fourth term is causing uncertainty in international dealings.
The bolivar, the country’s currency, has suffered under a drought of U.S. dollar bond sales in the last year, leading to a 42 percent drop in the bolivar’s value on the black market since October of 2011. Chavez is under heavy pressure to issue U.S. bonds in order to buoy the value of the bolivar and protect Venezuela from higher debt costs.