UPDATE 3-Chavez's return to Cuba for treatment rattles Venezuela

* Latest health twist renews speculation on Chavez's future

* Treatment is for "oxygenation" after cancer radiation

* Opposition calls for more transparency

CARACAS/HAVANA, Nov 28 (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo

Chavez was back in Cuba on Wednesday for cancer-linked medical

treatment that revived questions about the viability of his

socialist rule and left Venezuelans again guessing about his

exact condition.

After weeks of scarce public appearances, Chavez, 58,

announced in a letter on Tuesday that he was going to Havana for

therapy known as "hyperbaric oxygenation" - a method used to

reduce bone decay caused by radiation therapy.

In Cuba, Chavez enjoys the friendship of past and present

Cuban leaders Fidel and Raul Castro, plus guaranteed privacy on

the tightly controlled Caribbean island.

Venezuelans, who have been endlessly speculating about

Chavez's cancer since it was diagnosed in mid-2011, were not

sure what to make of the latest twist - debating whether it was

normal post-radiation treatment or a serious downturn.

"I really don't know what he has," Chavez's cousin,

Guillermo Frias, told Reuters from the president's rural

hometown state Barinas. "But anyway, I always pray for him every

night. I stop at a shrine on the corner and always remember him.

"I hope he recovers fine. I'm sure he will. The election

campaign was tough for him. He went too far."

Though he had declared himself cured, Chavez appeared

exhausted at the end of his successful presidential re-election

bid in October. He later admitted radiation had taken its toll.


The normally garrulous and omnipresent leader has made only

a few, relatively short public appearances, mainly on state TV,

at his presidential palace since his victory on Oct. 7.

One opposition newspaper dubbed him "The Invisible Man".

Unlike multiple past trips to Cuba, during treatment for

three operations on two tumors in his pelvic area, state TV did

not show images of Chavez departing or arriving this time.

Chavez has open-ended authorization from Congress to travel,

but aims to be back at least for the Jan. 10 start of his new

term, if not for a couple of regional summits before.

His absence leaves newly appointed Vice President Nicolas

Maduro, 49 - a former bus driver and union leader - in a

prominent position amid speculation among Venezuelans over who

could replace Chavez should he leave power.

Congress head 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.

Chavez's return to Cuba overshadowed the buildup to state

elections in Venezuela on Dec. 16, where the opposition aims to

overcome disappointment at their failure to win the presidency.

A prolonged absence by Chavez could potentially postpone

major policy decisions, such as a widely expected devaluation of

the bolivar currency after heavy pre-election state spending.


The hyperbaric oxygenation therapy, or HBOT, he is due to

receive involves breathing pure oxygen in a pressurized chamber.

In addition to the bone-weakening side effects of radiation

on cancer sufferers, experts say HBOT is used to treat

conditions including infections, abscesses and decompression

sickness - or the "bends" - that can afflict deep sea divers.

Nelson Bocaranda, a prominent pro-opposition journalist,

said Chavez had been suffering intense pain in his bones and

waist area of late, forcing him to rest and take painkillers.

In his widely read "Rumors" column on Wednesday, Bocaranda

published a supposed medical report from Havana's Cimeq

hospital, with a relatively uninflammatory diagnosis.

"It is a matter of giving him therapy for pain and

stabilization so he has a better quality of life," said the

report, which could not be confirmed.

"His physical state is normal; loss of weight reasonable;

high tension constant; abdominal nausea and pains; good

emotional state but with variable depression; tolerable pain

thresholds and reaction to treatment applied. He's rested in

recent days and had little pressure from government functions."

Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said the president was

receiving "complimentary therapy" and that no one should worry.

"There are many people who live as if in a soap opera, where

no one goes to the bathroom, no one gets flu," he told state TV.

"Chavez is a human being and he also gets sick."

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who ran against Chavez

in the presidential poll, sent him best wishes for a "long life"

but also urged greater transparency.

"Nobody wants to play the rumor game," he told reporters.

"Venezuelans should be told with total transparency what the

situation is, what's the extent of this treatment. That's the

way it should be in Venezuela and how it is in other countries."

Given investor hopes for a more market-friendly government,

Venezuela's widely traded bonds rose for a second day.

The benchmark Global 27 bond and state oil

company PDVSA's closely watched 2022 bond were

both at year-high prices of $93.44 and $111.75 respectively.

"If we reference the past price action to treatments in

Cuba, there was a pattern of buying on his departure to Cuba and

selling on his return to Venezuela," Siobhan Morden, managing

director at Jefferies & Co., said in a research note.

On Venezuela's streets, there was both solidarity and

skepticism concerning Chavez's situation.

"That man doesn't have anything. He was never sick," said

motorbike taxi driver Omar Rivas, 55, surmising that the health

saga was a ploy by the president to win public sympathy.

Teacher Ana Maria Garcia, 26, had a kinder reading: "I don't

understand what he has, but I hope he recovers quickly. He's a


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