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Chavez will not attend Mercosur summit: Brazil

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Chavez will not attend Mercosur summit: Brazil
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Brasilia: Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who traveled to Cuba for further cancer treatment a week ago, will miss this week's Mercosur regional summit, host Brazil said.

Chavez, Latin America's most prominent leftist leader, was elected to another six-year term in October, but his health has been the subject of intense speculation since he was diagnosed with cancer in June 2011.

"President Chavez will not come to the summit. Venezuela will be represented by (Foreign Minister and Vice President) Nicolas Maduro," a spokesman for the Brazilian foreign ministry told AFP.

Maduro said last week that Chavez was doing well and closely following events from Cuba, where he is undergoing sessions of hyperbaric oxygenation, the breathing of pure oxygen in a sealed and pressurized chamber.

He did not say when Chavez would return to Venezuela.

The 58-year-old Chavez had a cancerous tumor removed from near his pelvic region last year, but the government never disclosed the type or severity of the cancer, and in July of this year Chavez claimed to be cancer-free.

Chavez, who has been in power since 1999 and gained global prominence as an anti-American firebrand, appeared weak and subdued during the presidential campaign, but on October 7 he won a third term that extends to 2018.

The South American trading bloc plans to hold summit talks here today to mull the admission of Bolivia and Ecuador, with Venezuela attending for the first time as full member.

Bolivia and Ecuador are currently associate members of the bloc.

Brazilian officials said Presidents Cristina Kirchner of Argentina and Jose Mujica of Uruguay have confirmed their presence at the summit while Bolivian President Evo Morales and his Ecuadoran counterpart Rafael Correa are scheduled to attend.

It will be the group's first enlargement since Argentina, Brazil, Paraguay and Uruguay set it up in 1991.

Paraguay, where the senate had blocked Venezuela's membership since 2006, was suspended from the organization in June, after the dismissal of Paraguayan President Fernando Lugo, and will not take part in the Brasilia summit.

Venezuela's membership in the organization was formally approved shortly after Paraguay was suspended and became effective in August.

With the admission of Venezuela, which boasts the world's largest proven oil reserves, the bloc is now an energy and farming giant with a GDP of $3.3 trillion (83 percent of that of South America) and a population of 275 million.

Bolivia and Ecuador would boost Mercosur's population to nearly 300 million.

Mercosur foreign ministers meanwhile met here yesterday to discuss Venezuela's participation in the bloc's bodies, such as the Structural Convergence Fund set up to fund development projects in smaller regional economies.

Brazilian Foreign Minister Antonio Patriota said Venezuela has four years to adapt to Mercosur norms and trade rules although its partners hope to speed up the process.

"This meeting marks the full integration of Venezuela and we are seeking the most adequate manner and to the extent possible the fastest way to accomplish this," he added.

PTI

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