- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Hugo Chavez’s most recent cancer surgery was successful, his vice president said Tuesday, as international attention again focuses on the Venezuelan leader’s health as he prepares a re-election bid in October.

“President Chavez is in good physical condition,” Elias Jaua said before the National Assembly.

The vice president told the chamber that doctors had completely extracted a pelvic lesion and surrounding tissue, and said there had been “no complications.”

Mr. Chavez, who came to power in 1998, is slated to face off against challenger Henrique Capriles Radonski, who won an opposition primary in a landslide earlier this month.

Mr. Capriles Radonski, the 39-year-old governor of Venezuela’s second-most populous state, Miranda, has said he would repair broken relations with the U.S. and end the economic mismanagement that has led to 26 percent inflation.

Polls show the socialist Mr. Chavez with a narrow lead, though analysts say his continuing battle with cancer could hamper his campaigning ability.

Speaking at the Council of the Americas on Tuesday in Washington, Undersecretary of State Wendy Sherman - the State Department’s No. 3 official - said she was not privy to any special information about Mr. Chavez’s health, which she called a “private matter.”

“I read just today that it appears the surgery went well, and everyone would hope that he recovers and life moves on,” Ms. Sherman said in response to a question from The Washington Times.

“We obviously have a difference of view about what the future of Venezuela ought to be,” she said. “There is a vigorous opposition in Venezuela, but the choice is really for the people of Venezuela. It is not a choice for us to make as to where their country will go and what the leadership of their country will look like.”

Ms. Sherman said that Venezuela “certainly came up” in meetings with leaders during her recent trip to Colombia, Mexico, and Brazil.

She said Colombia’s current economic and political success had proven that the longstanding U.S.-Colombian program of security assistance and anti-narcotics cooperation - popularly known as “Plan Colombia” - had been a success.

“I was not a fan of Plan Colombia when it happened during the Clinton administration,” Ms. Sherman said. “I thought, ‘My God, what an enormous amount of money and a complex situation, how is this ever going to work?’ I was wrong. I was really wrong. It has made an extraordinary change.”

President Obama will make his first trip to Colombia next month, when he attends the Summit of the Americas in Cartagena.

Ms. Sherman said the Colombian government’s review process for implementing the U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement, which Mr. Obama signed in October, was “advancing well and already affecting the business climate in very positive ways.”

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