Chávez reveals cancer treatment

"I neglected my health," says the Venezuelan president.

After weeks of speculation over the state of his health, Hugo Chávez has revealed that he has had surgery to remove a cancerous tumour. In his first video appearance since being hospitalised in Cuba, Chávez said doctors had removed "cancerous cells" from his body. "This [is] the new battle that life has placed before us," he said.

In an uncharacteristically short speech, he ruefully reflected, "I neglected my health and I was reluctant to have medical check ups. It was a fundamental mistake for a revolutionary."

The Venezuelan president was rushed to hospital on 10 June after suffering abdominal pain while in a meeting with Fidel Castro. He later underwent emergency pelvic surgery and, as we now know, a second operation to remove a tumour.

It's still unclear when Chávez will return to Venezuela and the news has dismayed his supporters, who were confident that he would win re-election next year. The opposition is arguing that it is unconstitutional for Chávez to govern the country from abroad. Others have criticised him for initially denying claims that he had been diagnosed with cancer.

But most importantly, as I wrote on Monday, Chávez's absence has highlighted the lack of any obvious successor to his Bolivarian Revolution. Aware of this fact, his supporters are discussing the possibility of a Castro-like succession which would see Chavez's older brother, Adán Chávez, take over the presidency. As today's New York Times notes: "no government figure has occupied the political void created by [Chávez's] absence more assertively than his older brother, Adán Chávez, a physicist whose radical thinking has often been to the left of the president's."

In the meantime, Venezuelan politics remains as polarised as ever. On Saturday, the Vice Foreign Minister, Temir Porras, said: "The only thing that has metastasized is the cancer of the Miami Herald and the rest of the right-wing media."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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How the shadow cabinet forced Jeremy Corbyn not to change Labour policy on Syria air strikes

Frontbenchers made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the leader backed down. 

Jeremy Corbyn had been forced to back down once before the start of today's shadow cabinet meeting on Syria, offering Labour MPs a free vote on air strikes against Isis. By the end of the two-hour gathering, he had backed down twice.

At the start of the meeting, Corbyn's office briefed the Guardian that while a free would be held, party policy would be changed to oppose military action - an attempt to claim partial victory. But shadow cabinet members, led by Andy Burnham, argued that this was "unacceptable" and an attempt to divide MPs from members. Burnham, who is not persuaded by the case for air strikes, warned that colleagues who voted against the party's proposed position would become targets for abuse, undermining the principle of a free vote.

Jon Ashworth, the shadow minister without portfolio and NEC member, said that Labour's policy remained the motion passed by this year's conference, which was open to competing interpretations (though most believe the tests it set for military action have been met). Party policy could not be changed without going through a similarly formal process, he argued. In advance of the meeting, Labour released a poll of members (based on an "initial sample" of 1,900) showing that 75 per cent opposed intervention. 

When Corbyn's team suggested that the issue be resolved after the meeting, those present made it clear that they "would not leave the room" until the Labour leader had backed down. By the end, only Corbyn allies Diane Abbott and Jon Trickett argued that party policy should be changed to oppose military action. John McDonnell, who has long argued for a free vote, took a more "conciliatory" approach, I'm told. It was when Hilary Benn said that he would be prepared to speak from the backbenches in the Syria debate, in order to avoid opposing party policy, that Corbyn realised he would have to give way. The Labour leader and the shadow foreign secretary will now advocate opposing positions from the frontbench when MPs meet, with Corbyn opening and Benn closing. 

The meeting had begun with members, including some who reject military action, complaining about the "discorteous" and "deplorable" manner in which the issue had been handled. As I reported last week, there was outrage when Corbyn wrote to MPs opposing air strikes without first informing the shadow cabinet (I'm told that my account of that meeting was also raised). There was anger today when, at 2:07pm, seven minutes after the meeting began, some members received an update on their phones from the Guardian revealing that a free vote would be held but that party policy would be changed to oppose military action. This "farcical moment", in the words of one present (Corbyn is said to have been unaware of the briefing), only hardened shadow cabinet members' resolve to force their leader to back down - and he did. 

In a statement released following the meeting, a Corbyn spokesperson confirmed that a free vote would be held but made no reference to party policy: 

"Today's Shadow Cabinet agreed to back Jeremy Corbyn's recommendation of a free vote on the Government's proposal to authorise UK bombing in Syria.   

"The Shadow Cabinet decided to support the call for David Cameron to step back from the rush to war and hold a full two day debate in the House of Commons on such a crucial national decision.  

"Shadow Cabinet members agreed to call David Cameron to account on the unanswered questions raised by his case for bombing: including how it would accelerate a negotiated settlement of the Syrian civil war; what ground troops would take territory evacuated by ISIS; military co-ordination and strategy; the refugee crisis and the imperative to cut-off of supplies to ISIS."

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.