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Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

President Barack Obama’s January removal of the Cuban embargo is an important step toward restoring diplomatic relations between Cuba and the U.S., according to a senior research fellow at the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs.

After nearly a half-century of deadlock between Cuba and the U.S., Julia Sweig, a Latin American foreign policy scholar, said reforming relations with Cuba will help maintain relations with other Latin American countries. Sweig spoke at the LBJ School on Tuesday about the effects of the embargo’s removal. 

The agreement includes returning imprisoned foreign spies to their home country and putting embassies and ambassadors in place as soon as possible, Sweig said.

On Dec. 17 last year, Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro simultaneously announced they had been meeting for the past six months to delegate parameters for a big diplomatic move, according to Sweig. 

Now that pathways into Cuba are more open, Sweig said Obama’s administration hopes the private sector will return to Cuba and increase pressure on the White House and Congress for policy reform.

“The presidents issued some regulations a couple weeks ago that make the sanctions regime toward Cuba very much like Swiss cheese — that take his executive authority and say, basically, to the American private sector, ‘Go down to Cuba and explore and see what you can do. Come back and tell us what more you need in order to be able to trade, invest,’” Sweig said. 

Human biology junior Francisco Dominguez said the potential to make investments in Cuba gives him hope for the country’s future economic development — even if the legislation isn’t there yet. 

After Ted Cruz announced his presidential candidacy, Dominguez said the likelihood of a conservative president not following through with Obama’s efforts is worrisome.

“More than likely, according to polls, I think it’s going to be a republican president [in 2016], so I was really worried about … all of the work that’s been done — like six or seven years in the making,” Dominguez said. “Is it going to be dismantled?”

Public affairs graduate student Dylan Roberts said he found it surprising that the environment in Cuba is now so permissive for business.

“In the past in Cuba, what they don’t use they’d end up selling and using as their own profits sort of on the black market, so it’s nice to see now that there’s above ground activity to help people start businesses where it really just used to be black market sales,” Roberts said.

Photo Credit: Mariana Munoz | Daily Texan Staff

In December, President Barack Obama announced that the U.S. would re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba. The embargo with Cuba has long been criticized as petty and outdated policy, especially in the post-Cold War era. The Berlin Wall fell 25 years ago. The U.S. has had a relationship with communist China for 42 years. And yet an island nation 90 miles from Florida remains extremely isolated from American society. As  Obama said in his State of the Union address: “When what you're doing doesn't work for 50 years, it's time to try something new.”  

Our post-Cold War generation is ready to turn the page in our relationship with the island nation. Most millennials cannot remember the years of tension with the communist world; most undergraduates were born after the Soviet Union ceased to exist. For us, the threat has transitioned into history. As the actions by Obama’s administration indicate, it is time to make up. It is time to learn from each other and our past mistakes. Greater interaction will lead to more mutual understanding and mutual benefit.  

A better relationship with Cuba will also have ramifications throughout the region. Much of Latin America’s sympathies, if not official support, lie with Cuba. America’s policy toward Cuba provides ammunition for anti-American sentiment. The U.S. has a history of meddling in the affairs of many countries in the region. Latin America has not forgotten. Some see the U.S. as an exploitative imperialist power, which the irrational Cuban embargo supports. Turning over a new leaf with Cuba will earn the U.S. favor with both the people and the governments of the developing region. 

With greater access, Cuba will provide opportunities for study in economics, history, sociology, anthropology, philosophy, political science, literature, fine arts, business, the Spanish language and more. According to U.S. News and World Report, UT has the best Latin American Studies program in the nation, with the faculty and resources at the Lozano-Long Institute of Latin American Studies. LLILAS should also encourage academic exchange at the undergraduate and graduate levels through curriculum and study abroad programs, and at the professorial level by hosting Cuban academics and supporting UT professors’ efforts to study Cuba. LLILAS should be a leader in academic and cultural exchange in this new era of U.S.-Cuba relations.  

With travel restrictions subsiding, the University should encourage more students to study abroad in Cuba. Currently, the International Office offers a Maymester program in Havana. While certainly an enriching experience, it is by design a limited one. The “Cuba in Question” Maymester offers one course and a one-credit pre-departure seminar. The program cost is equivalent to a full semester’s tuition and is limited in the number of students it can take.

A traditional exchange program in Cuba would give students a more substantial experience. Five months of interaction with Cuban culture beyond the boundaries of a faculty-led educational tour would allow students to form a much deeper connection and understanding. Additionally, a semester exchange would allow students to take a full course load with much less additional cost. Our governments have decided to make Cuba more accessible to Americans. UT should follow suit and make the island nation more accessible to students.  

UT and LLILAS have a responsibility to continue improving its top-rated offerings. In the coming years, Cuba will provide enormous opportunity; the University should not let it pass to someone else out of lack of effort. The University should pave the way so students and faculty can compete for the wealth of opportunities that an increasingly accessible Cuba presents. 

Burchard is a Plan II senior from Houston. Follow Burchard on Twitter @nathburch.

Angela Rojas, a member of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Academy, speaks about the preservation of historical Cuban architecture Tuesday evening. 

Photo Credit: Ellyn Snider | Daily Texan Staff

Angela Rojas of the International Council on Monuments and Sites Academy discussed the importance of preserving Cuban world heritage at a lecture in Goldsmith Hall on Tuesday.

During the lecture, Rojas said certain locations in Cuba are key to understanding Cuban history and identity, including Trinidad, Old Havana with its fortification system and the urban historic center of Cienfuegos.

According to Rojas, visitors can learn about the sites’ histories and how they contributed to present-day Cuba. Rojas said Camagüey is a city that has been on the island since the 16th century.

“It is a city where you can witness history while traveling east to west, and it is incredible in its preservation, as there is much to learn from it,” Rojas said. 

Anna Nau, an architecture graduate student who attended the lecture, said such sites are important for Cubans and Americans. 

“The general culture significance is great for those who live there and for the rest of the world,” Nau said. “It’s a country that Americans have a very specific idea about based on the political issues between the United States and Cuba, and I did not know the cultural significance these Cuban cities possess.”

Rojas said proper planning and management for the sites is crucial for their preservation, and it is the general public’s responsibility to ensure that actions are being geared toward the stability of these sites. 

“Management should be led by community,” Rojas said. “The rest of the stakeholders should support a strict control of authenticity and integrity.”

Rojas said a way of helping stability in the region includes improving the living conditions and schools for those who live in the cities. She said she is content with the work that is currently being done in Cuba and credits tourism for much of the work that has been done.

“There are a lot of problems, but there is a lot of great private work going into the restoration due to new policies” Rojas said. “An innovative management system in Old Havana improving everything including restorations has its bases on cultural tourism.”

Isabelle Atkinson, an architecture senior who attended the lecture, said restoring and preserving Cuban sites also helps preserve Cuban culture.

“Restoring such sites keeps true to Cuban heritage and does not allow international influence to change the rich culture that is already there,” Atkinson said.

Achy Obejas, a distinguished writer at Mills College in Oakland, Calif., gives a lecture on queer issues in Cuban culture. 

Photo Credit: Remy Fine | Daily Texan Staff

At a talk discussing queer issues in Cuban culture Monday, Achy Obejas, a Cuban-American writer and LGBTQ advocate, noted the achievements of Cuba’s movement toward equality but said there is still progress to be made.

Naomi Lindstrom, acting director of the Schusterman Center for Jewish Studies, said Obejas brings a well-balanced perspective to the discussion of Cuban issues.

“She’s not at all what you would think,” Lindstrom said. “She’s not totally critical of the Cuban government. She’s not totally supportive. She takes what I consider [to be] a very measured outlook of everything that came out of the Cuban Revolution.”

Obejas said that since the early 21st century, treatment of the LGBTQ community in Cuba dramatically shifted from a place of persecution and marginalization to a place of tolerance. According to Obejas, tolerance does not mean acceptance. 

Obejas said that most of the changes could be attributed to Mariela Castro, founder of the Cuban National Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), a government-funded body that advocates for LGBTQ issues.  

Mariela Castro is the daughter of current Cuban president, Raul Castro. 

“What makes Raul Castro’s daughter’s pet project of homosexual acceptance truly ironic is that he is who is widely credited with being the driving force behind the creation of Cuba’s most notorious anti-gay campaign, the Unit for Military Production, also known as the UMAPs,” Obejas said.

Obejas said the Units to Aid Military Production, otherwise known as UMAPs, formally unacknowledged by the government, were detainment facilities for homosexual citizens as well as other political dissidents.  

Obejas said that despite the government’s silence on the subject, Mariela Castro was able to make gender issues part of the national conversation.

CENESEX pushed for a law that provides government-funded gender reassignment surgery to Cuban citizens who request the procedures. Obejas noted that, while the center’s accomplishments have made significant strides toward tolerance, there is still progress to be made within the movement.

According to Obejas, the ability for citizens to surgically change their anatomy doesn’t release them from societal gender pressures, just as the existence of an LGBTQ movement hasn’t eradicated homophobia. 

“The truth of the matter is that the harassment of gays is a pretty continuous and daily event in Cuba, particularly in Havana, where the capital police are notoriously violent,” Obejas said.

David Glisch-Sanchez, a sociology graduate student, said he enjoyed the fresh perspective given

Fantastic Fest 2011: Day 5 Recap

Follow @AlexWilliamsDT for more of our continuing Fantastic Fest 2011 coverage.

“Juan of the Dead”
Alejando Brugues
Genre: Zombie Comedy
Grade: A-
No additional screenings
The first independent film to come out of Cuba in 50 years, “Juan of the Dead” is a relatively original take of the zombie comedy. The film has the Cuban government casting the zombies overrunning the country as dissidents from the United States and constantly assuring its citizens all is well. However, likeable rascal Juan (Alexis Diaz de Villegas) sees an opportunity to make money in the destruction and removal of the undead, so he and his friends team up to take advantage of the impending apocalypse.
Written and directed by Alejandro Brugues, “Juan of the Dead” clearly isn’t operating on much of a budget, but the movie is so charming that it barely matters. While the CGI is more than a little spotty at times and there are a few shortcuts the film takes to cover up its financial shortcomings, it more than makes up for it with a funny, pointedly written script and a few large-scale scenes of zombie mayhem, including one of the best mass undead decapitations to ever grace the silver screen.
The story of the film’s reception in Cuba is one still being written, as Cuban government officials have yet to see and approve the film. It’s entirely feasible that “Juan of the Dead” could be a film that becomes much more underground as time goes on, and that’s a shame, because the film is a heartfelt, funny and often just gorey enough zombie comedy, and isn’t overwhelmed by its low budget or subversive political undercurrent.
“A Boy and His Samurai”
Yoshihiro Nakamura
Genre: Romantic Comedy
Grade: A-
No additional screenings
Yoshihiro Nakamura directed one of the all-time greats of Fantastic Fest with “Fish Story” a few years back, and since then he’s returned with last year’s “Golden Slumber” and this year with “A Boy and His Samurai.” The film, easily the most wholesome to play the festival this year, is an understated romantic comedy, pairing Hiroko (Rie Tomosaka), a divorcee and single mother of Tomoya (Fuku Suzuki), with time-traveling samurai Yasubi (Ryo Nishikodo). The film makes Yasubi’s domestication a sweet and funny journey, as he learns to care for Tomoya and becomes a baking fiend.
While “A Boy and His Samurai” ultimately boils down to a predictable formula in new clothes, the film is warm and inviting enough that by the time you realize it’s a romantic comedy, you’re already so charmed by the characters that its predictability is more or less irrelevant. Tomosaka and Nishikodo make a nice pair, but Fuku Suzuki’s performance as the young Tomoya more or less commands the audience’s emotion, with Suzuki able to break hearts and coax smiles simply by breaking into tears or reacting to one of Yasubi’s actions.
“A Boy and His Samurai” won the Audience Award at last night’s Fantastic Fest award and for good reason. Yoshihiro Nakamura knows how to please the attendees of this festival, but he also knows how to make an emotional, sweet film that stands out proudly among the cinematic rapes, murders and home invasions that run so rampant at Fantastic Fest.

HAVANA (AP) — After controlling the comings and goings of its people for five decades, communist Cuba appears on the verge of a momentous decision to lift many travel restrictions. One senior official says a “radical and profound” change is weeks away.

The comment by Parliament Chief Ricardo Alarcon has residents, exiles and policymakers abuzz with speculation that the much-hated exit visa could be a thing of the past, even if Raul Castro’s government continues to limit the travel of doctors, scientists, military personnel and others in sensitive roles to prevent a brain drain.

Other top Cuban officials have cautioned against over-excitement, leaving islanders and Cuba experts to wonder how far Havana’s leaders are willing to go.

In the past 18 months, Castro has removed prohibitions on some private enterprise, legalized real estate and car sales, and allowed compatriots to hire employees, ideas that were long anathema to the government’s Marxist underpinnings.

Printed on Thursday, May 3, 2012 as: After 50 years, Cubans hope decision will admit free travel

People protest during a May Day rally in Barcelona, Spain on Tuesday. Tens of thousands of workers marked May Day in European cities with a mix of anger and gloom over imposed austerity measures.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

MADRID — On the front lines of the world’s May Day protests this year, along with the traditional chants, banners and marches, a gamut of emotions flowed through the crowds: Anger. Fear. Elation. Despair.

With Europe’s unemployed denouncing austerity measures, Asia’s laborers demanding higher salaries and U.S. protesters condemning Wall Street, Tuesday’s demonstrations by hundreds of thousands were less a celebration of workers’ rights than a furious venting over spending cuts, tax hikes and soaring unemployment.

The protests came just days ahead of key elections in Greece and France, whose leaders have acutely felt popular anger over policies many feel are strangling any hopes of economic recovery. The rallies reflected deep pessimism in Spain, dealing with a fragile economy is in the cross-hairs of the European debt crisis.

Yet optimism and national pride emerged too. Over 100,000 turned out in Russia for May Day rallies that celebrated Vladimir Putin’s government. And tens of thousands of workers rallied with joy in France, hoping this would be the last week of President Nicolas Sarkozy’s conservative leadership.

In the U.S., protesters lined major financial institutions in the country’s most high-profile Occupy Wall Street rallies since the encampments protesting the gap between the superrich and poor came down in the fall. Crowds blocked intersections in Oakland, Calif., trying to force businesses to shut down for not observing calls for a “general strike.” Police in riot gear faced dozens of Occupy activists marching in front of a Bank of America in New York City, chanting “Bank of America. Bad for America.”

Under a gray Madrid sky that reflected the dark national mood, 25-year Adriana Jaime turned out to march. Jaime speaks three languages and has a masters degree as a translator, but works for what she derided as peanuts in a university research project that has been cut from three years to three months due to a lack of funds.

“I am here because there is no future for the young people of this country,” Jaime said as many marchers carried black-and-white placards with the word NO and a pair of red scissors.

Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy is trying desperately to cut a bloated deficit, restore investor confidence in Spain’s public finances, lower its 24.4 percent jobless rate, and fend off fears the country will soon need a bailout like Greece, Ireland and Portugal.

But Ana Lopez, a 44-year-old civil servant, argued the government is doing nothing to help workers and that the economic crisis is only benefiting banks.

“Money does not just disappear. It does not fly away. It just changes hands, and now it is with the banks,” Lopez said. “And the politicians are puppets of the banks.”

In France, tens of thousands of workers, leftists and union leaders marked May Day with glee, hoping that a presidential runoff vote Sunday will put a Socialist at the helm for the first time since 1988.

Protests took place all over the globe, in places such as Germany Russia; Chile; Argentina, Indonesia, the Phillipines, Taiwan and Cuba. Also known as International Workers’ Day, it is a commemoration of those killed striking during the Haymarket Riots of 1886.Many voters fear Sarkozy will erode France’s welfare and worker protections, and see him as too friendly with the rich.

“Sarkozy has allowed himself for too long to manhandle the lower classes,” said Dante Leonardi, a 24-year-old in Paris. “Today we must show ... that we want him to leave.”

Hollande has promised high taxes on the rich.

“We are going to choose Hollande because we want something else for France. We want to keep our jobs, we want to keep our industrial jobs, we want a new economy,” said protester Serge Tanguy.

Even in Germany, where the economy is churning and unemployment is at a record low, unions estimated that 400,000 people showed up at over 400 May Day rallies. The DGB union group sharply criticized Europe’s treaty enshrining fiscal discipline and the austerity measures across the continent, calling instead for a stimulus program to revive the 17-nation eurozone’s depressed economies.

In debt-crippled Greece, more than 2,000 people marched through central Athens in subdued May Day protests centered on the country’s harsh austerity program.

“(We need) new policies that will satisfy the needs of workers and not of bosses and banks,” said Ilias Vrettakos of the ADEDY union.

In Moscow, the mood was resolutely pro-government, as 100,000 people — including President Dmitry Medvedev and President-elect Putin — took part in the main May Day march.

The two leaders happily chatted with participants as many banners criticized the Russian opposition movement. One read “Spring has come, the swamp has dried up,” referring to Bolotnaya (Swampy) Square, the site of some of the largest opposition demonstrations.

Communists and leftists held a separate May Day rally in Moscow that attracted about 3,000. Communist Party leader Gennady Zyuganov decried international economic troubles, saying that “without socialism, without respect for the working people who create all the main value in this land, it is not possible to get out of this crisis.”

Police arrested 22 people at the rally, and violence was largely contained at the protests.

After a workers’ day march in Santiago, Chile, some protesters threw objects at closed businesses, breaking the windows of several banks and pulling out furniture to build a bonfire in the street. Police responded with tear gas and water cannons, and arrested an undetermined number of people. In Argentina, small explosion went off outside the EU headquarters in Buenos Aires before dawn, breaking a few windows, but there were no injuries and no one was arrested.

Earlier, thousands of workers protested in the Philippines, Indonesia, Taiwan and other Asian nations, demanding wage hikes. They said their take-home pay could not keep up with rising food, energy and housing prices and school fees.

An unemployed father of six set himself on fire in southern Pakistan in an apparent attempt to kill himself because he was mired in poverty, according to police officer Nek Mohammed. Abdul Razzaq Ansari, 45, suffered burns on 40 percent of his body but survived.

In Manila, capital of the Philippines, more than 8,000 union members clad in red shirts and waving red streamers marched under a brutal sun to a heavily barricaded bridge near the Malacanang presidential palace, which teemed with thousands of riot police.

Another group of left-wing workers later burned a huge effigy of President Benigno Aquino III, depicting him as a lackey of the United States and big business. Aquino has rejected their calls for a $3 daily pay hike, which he warned could worsen inflation and spark layoffs.

In Indonesia, thousands of protesters demanding higher wages paraded through traffic-clogged streets in the capital, Jakarta, where 16,000 police and soldiers were deployed. Protests were also held in Taiwan, Malaysia and Hong Kong.

In Havana, Cubans marked May Day not with protest but with a mass demonstration dedicated to “preserving and perfecting socialism,” the slogan on a huge banner carried by medical workers who led the march.

Thousands filed through the capital’s Plaza of the Revolution in front of President Raul Castro and Cabinet officials, waving red, white and blue Cuban flags.

“Country, revolution and socialism are inextricably fused together,” said Salvador Valdes Mesa, head of Cuba’s central labor union.

Printed on Wednesday, May 2, 2012 as: May Day protesters focus economic rage

GUANTANAMO BAY NAVAL BASE, Cuba — Some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay will soon have a new, larger soccer field to help keep them occupied during their indefinite detention.

The U.S. military has nearly completed a new recreation yard in Camp 6, the camp where more than 80 percent of the 171 prisoners are held. Besides a soccer field, it will have a walking trail and exercise equipment. Screened fences block the view of the nearby Caribbean Sea.

A spokeswoman says the improvements cost nearly $750,000. Navy Cmdr. Tamsen Reese said Tuesday the new yard replaces a smaller one in a part of the prison no longer in use. President Barack Obama had pledged to close the prison on the U.S. base in Cuba but Congress blocked him.

Ecuador’s President Rafael Correa, left, and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez speak during the welcome ceremony for a summit by the eight-nation Bolivarian Alliance bloc, or ALBA, at Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Saturday Feb. 4, 2012.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez has never been one to share decision-making authority. Now, the voluble socialist strongman and acerbic critic of the U.S. may have no choice but to designate a successor.

His announcement that he will go to Cuba within a week to remove a growth that he says is likely malignant could not come at a worse moment for the leader who is working to transform Venezuela with what he calls “21st century socialism.”

With a tight re-election campaign brewing for the president, analysts said Wednesday that Venezuela could be thrown into turmoil because Chavez has resisted grooming a successor during his 13 years in power.

The result is a power vacuum that his camp will be hard-pressed to fill, especially if he is unable to campaign for the Oct. 7 elections or wins and then becomes physically incapable of governing.

“I promise I will fight without respite for my life,” the 57-year-old Chavez tweeted Wednesday.

Carmen Rondon, a 65-year-old nurse, was with a small group of Chavez supporters gathered at a corner of Caracas’ Plaza Bolivar under a sign saying “Forward, Forward, Commander.”

“We are praying together to the all-powerful for his recovery,” Rondon said. “We have faith that it will turn out well and he will overcome it like the first time because he is a strong man physically and humanly.”A day earlier, Chaveze conceded in sharing his bad news that he could be out of action for weeks. Under the circumstances, it would be Herculean to be able to simultaneously run a government, fight to stay in office and battle cancer.“I’m not going to be able to continue with the same rhythm,” he told state TV by telephone late Tuesday. He said he would need to “rethink my personal agenda and take care of myself, confront what must be confronted.”

Chavez did not mention who might replace him during an absence that cancer specialists say could last weeks if the leader has to undergo radiation treatment, as he himself said he expected. Chavez said the same doctors who removed a baseball-size cancerous tumor from his pelvic region in June would be operating on him.

He denied rumors the cancer had spread aggressively, but also said his doctors don’t know if the new two-centimeter (one-inch) lesion they found over the weekend is malignant.

The former paratrooper met Wednesday with his inner circle, with a central topic bound to be how to combat the opposition’s presidential candidate — Henrique Capriles, an athletic 39-year-old state governor.

The president of the Chavez-controlled National Assembly, Diosdado Cabello, told reporters that Chavez remained the ruling party’s candidate.

“There is a false belief that associates cancer with death,” he said. “That’s not how it is, because you can overcome it with love, and the president has a bounty of that.”

Chavez is expected to travel to Cuba on Friday or Saturday, Cabello said.

Javier Corrales, a political science professor at Amherst College, said Chavez is now, finally, heeding medical advice after insisting on maintaining a physically demanding schedule of travel and marathon speeches.

But is he also listening to political advice about naming a successor?

“The key question is whether he is beginning to pay attention to advice from all those forces, ranging from family members to political operators, telling him to come forward with a succession plan,” Corrales said.

There are no obvious choices, since Chavez has constantly demoted anyone who could outshine him, Corrales added.

During his periods of convalescence last year, Chavez delegated some administrative duties to Vice President Elias Jaua and to his planning and finance minister, Jorge Giordani.

But Jaua apparently has lost favor since then, along with another longtime member of Chavez’s inner circle, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro. Both still hold their posts, but Chavez recently demoted them by choosing them as his party’s candidates in gubernatorial elections next year.

One possible stand-for the president is his older brother, Adan, governor in Chavez’s home state of Barinas. The military, from which Chavez sprung, also could provide someone to fill in for the president.

“It could very well be that this is going to be a military-brokered succession, not unlike Egypt,” said Corrales. “At the first sign of chaos we could see the military indirectly or even explicitly playing a big role.”

One powerful close confidant of Chavez likely to play a leading role is Gen. Henry Rangel Silva, a former intelligence chief named as defense minister last month by the president.

The United States, which has not had an ambassador in Venezuela since 2010, takes a dim view of Rangel Silva. He is one of four members of Chavez’s inner circle who Washington put on its Foreign Narcotics Kingpins list in 2008, accusing them of helping drug gangs and supplying leftist Colombian rebels with arms.

Still, even many fervent supporters of Chavez, whose political backbone is Venezuela’s poor majority, have doubts that he would choose a successor, even if his health significantly deteriorated.

“My ‘comandante’ isn’t going to delegate, even if he were in a wheelchair,” Maria Teresa Diaz, 65, said of Chavez.

Physicians consulted by The Associated Press said it was impossible to offer an assessment of Chavez’s health based on the limited information provided Tuesday by the leader, who had four rounds chemotherapy from July to September.

But some said finding a malignant tumor in the same place one was removed less than a year ago was not a good sign.

“A relapse within a year means the tumor is very aggressive,” said Dr. Sebastian Quintero, a leading Colombian oncologist.

Printed on Thursday, February 23, 2012 as: Chavez' surgery throws election into uncertainty

Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez kisses a Venezuelan flag after greeting supporters at a balcony of Miraflores presidential palace in Caracas, Venezuela, Monday, July 4, 2011. Chavez returned to Venezuela from Cuba on Monday morning, stepping off a plane hours before dawn and saying he is feeling better as he recovers from surgery that removed a cancerous tumor.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

CARACAS, Venezuela — In his monthlong fight against cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has placed utmost importance on secrecy, carefully offering only scraps of information about his condition.

Now, as he begins planned chemotherapy in Cuba, Chavez appears to have found the perfect place where he can tightly guard details of his illness and keep the prying eyes of the news media far away.

The Venezuelan leader first underwent surgery in the island nation on June 20 to remove a cancerous tumor from his pelvic region. He returned Saturday night, saying he would be starting a “second phase of treatment.”

Typical of the cone of silence Chavez has lowered over his health problems, he hasn’t said how long the chemotherapy is likely to last, and there was no immediate confirmation from either Cuba or Venezuela that the treatments had in fact begun.

Chavez, 56, had said he would begin the treatments in Havana on Sunday to ensure cancer cells don’t reappear. He has also said he has been open about the details of his medical condition.

Maria Teresa Romero, professor of international studies at the Central University of Venezuela, said controlling information about his illness is important for Chavez to maintain both his hold on power and an image of strength at home.

“The secrecy, the trust is assured [in Cuba],” she said, “which is something that wouldn’t be assured if he were treated in Brazil, for example, or here in Venezuela. It would be much more difficult to keep secret everything they are going to do him.”

Paul Webster Hare, a former British ambassador to Cuba from 2001 to 2004, said Chavez is likely receiving the same sort of protections and accommodations that ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro himself would expect. Hare was also the deputy head of mission for the British Diplomatic Service in Venezuela from 1994 to 1997.

“Everything there will be arranged as if a member of the Castro family were being treated — strict secrecy, encrypted communication with Venezuela, transport, etcetera, just as if a favorite son had returned,” Hare said.

“Just as there is no accountability for the subsidies that Venezuela provides Cuba, the political relationship is based on shared commitments and understandings between the leaders that are never subjected to institutional scrutiny.”

On top of that, Hare said, “non-Cuban specialists could be more easily flown in to Havana than in the countries with a free and inquiring media.”

When Fidel Castro himself was gravely ill in 2006, a Spanish surgeon, not a Cuban, treated him.

One of the few messages that emerged from Chavez by early afternoon Sunday came via his Twitter account, where one of three notes offered congratulations for the start of the ALBA Games in Venezuela, an athletic competition involving countries in the left-leaning Bolivarian Alliance bloc.

“From my trench, battling for life, I congratulate the entire homeland for the marvelous inauguration of the ALBA Games! We will live!” the message said.

Chavez has been treated by a team of Cuban and Venezuelan doctors since doctors removed a cancerous tumor that Chavez said was the size of a baseball. He hasn’t said what type of cancer he was diagnosed with nor specified where exactly it was located, saying only that it was in his pelvic region.

Government officials have deferred to Chavez to provide the information he chooses about his prognosis, while opposition leaders have demanded that the president come clean about what exactly his medical condition is. Three days before he left for Cuba, Chavez acknowledged for the first time that he expected to undergo chemotherapy or radiation treatment.

Printed on 07/18/2011 as: Chavez conceals treatment in Cuba