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Chavez reportedly at exclusive Cuba hospital

Published on NewsOK Modified: January 17, 2013 at 1:52 pm •  Published: January 17, 2013
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Chavez is believed to be housed in an entirely separate ward that is off-limits to all but a few — his doctors, family members and the highest-level officials. It is here that Chavez's friend and mentor, Fidel Castro, 86, was presumably treated for an intestinal ailment that nearly killed him and forced him into retirement seven years ago. As has been the case with Chavez, details of Castro's illness were closely guarded leaving rumor and speculation to rule the day.

It's a far cry from the scene outside hospitals in other places where the rich and famous undergo treatment.

Think of Los Angeles' Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, favored by Hollywood celebrities, where packs of paparazzi stalk the entrance snapping photos of movie stars who've given birth or survived an overdose.

Or the British royal family, which last year couldn't guarantee the privacy of the Duchess of Cambridge, still better known as Kate Middleton, when she was hospitalized for pregnancy complications. An Australian radio DJ duo called the hospital and, mimicking Queen Elizabeth II's warbling speech, pranked a nurse into revealing private details of her condition. A second nurse who patched the call through later died in an apparent suicide.

Chavez has not been seen or heard from since his operation, although his family members, Venezuelan officials and other Latin American leaders have visited the island to support him.

Cuban government officials have repeatedly declined to offer any information about Chavez's condition, saying they consider it a matter exclusively for the Venezuelans to handle as they see fit. Venezuelan Embassy employees say privately they are told nothing about the president's health other than the vague official statements released by Chavez's camp, not even to confirm where he's staying.

Chavez is no doubt grateful for the discretion, and by some accounts has responded generously.

A commonly repeated story is that after his first surgery 1 ½ years ago, Chavez gave new cars to everyone responsible for his care, from the surgeons down to a maid who cleaned the room. The rumors were never confirmed, but the purported gifts are said to have inspired jealousy and infighting among hospital staff.

Some have questioned Chavez's decision to opt for Cuba instead of the cancer center at Sao Paulo's Sirio-Libanes hospital, considered the top facility of its kind in Latin America. Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff invited Chavez to seek treatment there when he was first diagnosed.

But in choosing Cuba, the Venezuelan leader got a guarantee of privacy while handing a public relations victory to communist leaders who tout health care achievements among the Cuban Revolution's great successes.

"There was a political message, too: the complete trust that Chavez put in Cuba and its public medical system," said Eduardo Bueno, a Latin American studies professor at the Iberoamerican University in Mexico City.

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Associated Press writers Peter Orsi and Anne-Marie Garcia contributed to this report.

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Andrea Rodriguez on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ARodriguezAP