Venezuela president Hugo Chavez died from cancer on Tuesday, however, he was just one of many Latin American leaders who were struck down by such grave diagnoses in recent years.
Last October, Juan Manuel Santos, the president of Venezuela’s western neighbor, Colombia, said he was diagnosed with prostate cancer. He quickly underwent surgery and recovered.
Dilma Rousseff, the current president of Brazil, said in April 2009 that she was undergoing medical treatment for an early-stage axillary lymphoma, which is cancer of the lymphatic system. By September of that year, she had finished radiotherapy treatment and declared she was cured.
In December 2012, Rousseff again addressed her condition, by stating that her cancer was “resolved,” and that she was in “good health.”
“My health is very good and I’m trying to lose some 4 or 5 kilos (9-11 pounds), to get back in the shape I was in before the election,” the president told Brazilian TV.
Rousseff’s mentor and immediate predecessor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, said he had contracted throat cancer, after a lifetime of smoking, in October 2011. Following a series of chemotherapy and radiotherapy sessions, he announced his full recovery in March 2012.
In August 2010, President Fernando Lugo of Paraguay was diagnosed with the early stages of a malignant tumor. By January 2012, he had made a full recovery.
Another prominent female Latin head of state, Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, the president of Argentina, also faced a cancer scare. In late December 2011, her spokesman announced that she had been diagnosed with thyroid cancer and was scheduled to undergo surgery. However, one month later, the government said she was misdiagnosed.
According to the Pan American Health Organization, cancer rates have been soaring in Latin America and the Caribbean. In 2005, about 480,000 people in this region died from cancer; by 2030, that figure is expected to triple to more than 1.6 million. The highest cancer mortality rates were found in Uruguay, Barbados, Peru, Argentina and Chile.
Chavez, whose cancer fight turned into a lengthy saga filled with mystery, twists and turns, himself noted the sudden flurry of cancer diagnoses among his Latin peers by blaming in on the U.S., citing that only leftists were so affected.
"Would it be strange if they [the U.S.] had developed the technology to induce cancer and nobody knew about it?" Chavez said in a televised speech in late 2011.
He noted that in the 1940s, U.S. government scientists had infected prisoners in Guatemala with syphilis and other diseases.
Palash has worked as a business journalist for 21 years in New York.