UPDATE 3-Venezuela's Chavez to skip summit due to health

* Speculation rife again about socialist leader's health

* Chavez had talked about attending meeting in Brazil

* Venezuela just admitted to Mercosur trade bloc

BRASILIA/CARACAS, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President

Hugo Chavez will not attend a regional trade summit in Brazil on

Friday, sources said, an absence sure to heighten speculation

over the leftist leader's health.

Before he went to Cuba last week for more cancer-related

treatment, Chavez had spoken enthusiastically about attending

the Mercosur bloc's meeting in Brasilia to celebrate Venezuela's


He has not been seen in public since Nov. 15.

"Chavez is not coming. They've even canceled the hotel

reservation," a Brazilian foreign ministry source said on

Thursday. Another Brazilian official said Chavez's logistics and

security advance staff were leaving Brasilia.

In Caracas, a source at the Miraflores presidential palace

also said the 58-year-old Chavez was not going to travel.

The recently re-elected president went to Cuba nine days ago

for "hyperbaric oxygenation" treatment - normally used to treat

bone decay caused by radiation therapy.

Chavez has had three cancer surgeries in Cuba since

mid-2011. So even though officials were portraying the latest

treatment as normal follow-up after radiation, rumors are

rampant that it could be more serious.

"If Chavez does not show up at the first meeting where

Venezuela is a full member of Mercosur, it will create a lot of

distrust over his health," said Marcelo Coutinho, professor of

international relations at Rio de Janeiro's Federal University.

Officials have given no detailed information on Chavez's



Later on Thursday, Venezuela's information minister tweeted

links to two statements by the president, one extolling a group

of colorful Venezuelan cultural dancers, Los Danzantes de Corpus

Christi, and another expressing his regret at the death of

Brazilian architect Oscar Niemeyer on Wednesday.

Neither statement mentioned Chavez's health, his treatment

in Cuba, nor his absence from the meeting in Brasilia.

His presence in Cuba, where Chavez has spent more than three

months in total since his first 2011 diagnosis of cancer in the

pelvic region, has overshadowed Dec. 16 regional elections.

Without him on the campaign trail or television, the race

for 23 governorships has been a low-key one, failing to light up

the public like October's presidential election did with a

record voter turnout of more than 80 percent.

Although Chavez continues to sign official papers and make

appointments from Cuba, his absence may delay decisions on some

major issues like a possible devaluation of the bolivar currency

or an amnesty for jailed opponents.

Various ministers have been visiting him in Havana this

week, according to Venezuelan officials.

Chavez allies have lambasted media and others for behaving

like "vampires" with speculation about his condition. One

pro-opposition journalist said he was using a wheelchair.

Bonds have rallied since his departure, on investor bets for

a change to a more business-friendly government.

Newly appointed Vice President Nicolas Maduro, 49 - a former

bus driver and union leader - has assumed a more prominent

position amid speculation among Venezuelans over who could

replace Chavez should he leave office.

Maduro, who is also foreign minister, was due to represent

Venezuela at the Mercosur meeting in Brazil.

Congress chief Diosdado Cabello, a former military comrade

of Chavez, is also often touted as a possible successor to lead

the ruling Socialist Party.

Under the constitution, an election would have to be held if

Chavez were to leave office within the first four years of his

new six-year term, which starts on Jan. 10.

That would give a fresh chance to the opposition, which

garnered 44 percent of the vote - and a record number of 6.5

million votes - in the October presidential poll.

An internal U.N. report seen by Reuters drew three possible


"If Chavez lives, his term will continue to face monumental

political, economic and security challenges. If Chavez accepts

his mortality and organizes a managed transition, a unified PSUV

would likely fare well in a snap election," the report said.

"If Chavez dies unexpectedly without a clear successor, a

unified opposition - likely behind former presidential candidate

Henrique Capriles Radonski - would stand its best chance to come

to power in over a decade."

Chavez is guaranteed a warm welcome and discreet treatment

because of his friendship with Cuba's past and present rulers

Fidel and Raul Castro, plus the strict controls on information


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