Colombian officials confirmed yesterday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez is expected to attend this weekend’s Summit of the Americas in Cartagena, Colombia. The announcement of Chávez’ decision to attend the summit alongside other hemispheric heads of state comes amid intense speculation about the possible deterioration of the Venezuelan leader’s health. Chávez has spent the last few days in Cuba undergoing radiation treatment for his cancer and, according to sources in Colombia, may spend only a few hours at the summit before heading home to Venezuela.
President Chávez at home is facing his most serious electoral challenge since he rose to power in 1998 and may be striving to shore up international support, while projecting an image of strength to observers in Venezuela. The upcoming summit will put major hemispheric issues into the spotlight, such as commercial integration, regional security, monetary policy, and natural disaster relief.
The Obama administration also announced yesterday that the U.S. president will arrive in Colombia on Friday—a day earlier than was originally planned. Senior White House officials have announced that Obama will go to the summit seeking to boost trade and commercial ties—especially in the energy sector—and will likely focus his public statements on the successful passage last year of free trade deals with Panama and Colombia.