Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez skipped the Summit of the Americas and headed to Cuba for medical treatment after he was recently diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, according to reports.
Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro made the announcement from Colombia, where he was in attendance for the meeting in place of Chavez, according to the Washington Post. Maduro told a local television station that the president was advised by doctors not to attend the summit.
The Post reports that the decision for Chavez not to attend the meeting with President Barack Obama and other world leaders could spark questions about the Venezuelan president’s political future.
“For more than a dozen years he has been at the center of attention at these hemispheric gatherings,” Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington, D.C., told the news source. “His cancer, coupled with political problems at home, constrains his regional and global role.”
Venezuela’s asbestos consumption put in spotlight
President Chavez’s diagnosis of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer, puts Venezuela’s use of asbestos under the microscope. The country, which was one of the earliest adopters of asbestos in South America, was the second-largest importer in 1960.
Between 1960 and 1975, Venezuela’s asbestos imports grew six-fold, and in 2010 the country consumed an estimated 910 metric tons, according to the U.S. Geological Survey. Though that number pales in comparison with countries like India and China, the simple fact that asbestos use has not been banned in Venezuela raises major questions.
Chavez, who is running for re-election in October, recently told a group of supporters that his strength has been impacted by the radiation therapy he’s received, but added that he was “doing well,” according to the Post.
Asbestos-related illnesses remain prevalent around the world
While countries like Venezuela have not banned the use of asbestos, a number of others have done so. Still, asbestos-related diseases such as malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer continue to be diagnosed around the world.
A mesothelioma diagnosis for a major public figure like Hugo Chavez sheds light on the reality that asbestos exposure remains a significant crisis. According to the World Health Organization, approximately 107,000 individuals around the world succumb to asbestos-related diseases each year.