CARACAS, Venezuela, Nov. 2 (UPI) -- The doctors and family of ailing Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez are embroiled in a bitter controversy after reports that the cancer-stricken populist leader has only two years to live.
Reports of Chavez's reduced life expectancy were attributed to Salvador Navarrete, a doctor who fled Caracas for an unknown destination after a series of incidents including police visits to his home and offices.
Chavez called Navarrete a "liar" and a "con man" and loyalist doctors denied he'd worked as a member of the medical team treating him for cancer.
Navarrete maintained he had served on the presidential medical team and performed surgery on Elena de Chavez, the president's mother.
Chavez has said he doesn't remember meeting Navarrete, contradicting the doctor's claim that he treated him in 2002.
Navarrete worked at the University Hospital in Caracas till July before fleeing the country. His whereabouts are unknown.
A statement from some of Navarrete's fellow doctors said the specialist disclosed information on the low life expectancy of Chavez after being asked to do so by his family, which wants him to step down and rest.
Navarrete's comments were quoted by Mexico's Mileno magazine and made headlines across Latin America.
Chavez has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment for what is said to be pelvic cancer, though Chavez hasn't spelled out details of his illness, vowing to carry on and contest the next presidential election in 2012.
He has claimed repeatedly that he has "defeated cancer" and is in the clear.
There was no immediate indication how Chavez would react to the doctors' statement, which was more detailed about his condition and appeared to back some of Navarrete's comments.
"The presidential family is concerned because his kidneys are not working; he is being submitted to dialysis almost daily, he is being bombarded with steroids and they know he can't hold much longer with the Cuban treatment, and this with the only purpose of staying in office, and because he's terrified of death," said the statement released in Venezuelan media.
It said Chavez's daughters and his mother "want Hugo Chavez to give up the presidency so he can rest and spend time with his family."
Chavez came to power in 1999 and earned reputation as a political firebrand because of his radical politics and lengthy weekly broadcasts, in which he outlined his vision of a Bolivarian revolution drawing inspiration from 19th-century Latin American leader Simon Bolivar.
Despite tens of billions of dollars in oil export revenues, Chavez's revolution began to falter as Venezuela's economic performance languished. The country is in its third year of recession, which is blamed by opposition critics on the government's poor management of the oil billions.