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Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recently returned home after another surgery in Cuba. He's suffering from cancer, but little is known about his health beyond what information he provides. And that has rumors and speculations swirling, especially with a presidential election approaching in October. One man in Venezuela has been generating a big following for what he's revealing about Chavez's health.
And from Caracas, NPR's Juan Forero has history.
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)
NELSON BOCARANDA: (Foreign language spoken)
JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Nelson Bocaranda's evening radio show with co-host Mariela Celis is popular; two hours of banter, interviews and music.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
FORERO: And one reason is that Bocaranda, a journalist for 50 years, seems to have the inside track on some details of Chavez's health. Nuggets like this...
(SOUNDBITE OF RADIO SHOW)
BOCARANDA: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: ...in which Bocaranda reveals that Chavez, recuperating from surgery in Cuba, will be home within 48 hours. Two days later, El Comandante is back here in Caracas, where he's met with military honors and the national anthem.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: (Foreign language spoken)
(SOUNDBITE OF VENEZUELA NATIONAL ANTHEM)
FORERO: Chavez then says in a nationally televised speech that his operation was a success and had taken place on February 26th.
PRESIDENT HUGO CHAVEZ: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Venezuelans, though, still don't know what kind of tumor was removed in his first surgery last June or this time around. That's only added to the uncertainty as Chavez faces the most serious political challenge in his 13 years of rule - a tough re-election campaign against a youthful opponent, Henrique Capriles.
Luis Vicente Leon, an analyst and pollster, says there's a vacuum of information and a rumor mill on overdrive.
LUIS VICENTE LEON: Everybody wants to know what's happening. Everybody wants to have information. But we don't have a real information, serious, formal, official information.
FORERO: Nelson Bocaranda says he depends on trusted sources in Cuba. Aside from his radio show, he has a column called Murmurs, a website, and a Twitter account with more than half a million followers. Two of his scoops stand out.
He reported in June that Chavez had cancer before Chavez himself admitted it. And then in February, he issued tweets reporting a recurrence, later confirmed by Chavez.
BOCARANDA: Only the facts; he's going to be operate, he has this or so, so, so. And then, the same happened this time. They called me and they give me information because they trust me after how I behave since June until today. You know?
(SOUNDBITE OF CONVERSATIONS)
FORERO: On a recent night, as Bocaranda arrives at a restaurant, he's mobbed by diners. One is Manases Capriles who calls Bocaranda the Minister of Information.
MANASES CAPRILES: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Bocaranda tells us what's happening in the country, says Capriles, and later government ministers and the president confirm what he's just told us.
There aren't such kind words for Bocaranda from Mario Silva. He's host of "The Razor" on state TV, which is the main vehicle the government uses for attacks on its enemies. Here's a clip from YouTube.
(SOUNDBITE OF YOUTUBE VIDEO)
MARIO SILVA: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: Garbage, a homosexual, a despicable rat - that's what Silva calls Bocaranda in a recent show.
But in one poor neighborhood that's a Chavez stronghold, people follow Bocaranda. It's not hard to find them at an outdoor restaurant, where they're enjoying cold beer and salsa on a recent night. One of those familiar with Bocaranda's revelations is Felix Garcia, a Chavez supporter. He says the president's health is the issue of the day.
FELIX GARCIA: (Foreign language spoken)
FORERO: But he also says everyone, even Chavez, has the right to privacy.
Juan Forero, NPR News, Caracas, Venezuela.
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