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Spain's 'El Pais' Apologizes For Photo That Was Not Of Cancer-Stricken Chavez

Jan 25, 2013
Originally published on January 25, 2013 1:06 pm

From Madrid, correspondent Lauren Frayer writes:

Editors at Spain's El País newspaper thought they had a scoop: The first glimpse in more than six weeks of cancer-stricken Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez.

A large, blurry photo above the fold on Thursday's front page showed a chubby-faced, bald man on an operating table surrounded by doctors, with a breathing tube in his mouth. A caption identified the ailing patient as Chavez, who is undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba.

"The Secret of Chavez' Illness," the headline read, heralding a "global exclusive." A short article accompanying the photo said it had been taken in Cuba in recent days.

Problem is, the photo is not of Chavez. And Venezuela has vowed to sue.

Venezuela's information minister, Ernesto Villegas, wrote on Twitter that the photo is actually a screenshot from a video of another man, uploaded to YouTube in 2008. Chavez' first known cancer surgery was in June 2011.

Villegas called the photo "as grotesque as it is false" and accused El País of discrimination against Chavez and all South Americans. Later at a news conference, he said "these type of acts do not go unpunished."

"We will use all the legal tools within our reach to proceed to repair the damage caused not only to Comandante Chavez, the president, but also to all of Venezuelan society," Villegas told reporters in Caracas.

El País quickly yanked the photo from its website, and within hours, posted an apology to readers. The paper said it received the photo from the Spanish photo agency Gtres Online, which usually specializes in celebrity images. Another Spanish newspaper, El Mundo, and The Associated Press both said they were also offered the photo, but turned it down.

Couriers were sent to collect the original, incorrect copies of El País from newsstands, and to halt the paper's delivery across Spain, Europe and the Americas. El País dispatched a second print edition without the Chavez photo or article. It said it was investigating what went wrong in its efforts to verify the photo's authenticity.

Chavez, 58, is believed to have undergone cancer surgery at least four times since his diagnosis. Officials have said he is recovering from a severe respiratory problem and complications from his most recent operation last month. But the Venezuelan leader has not appeared in public since then — fueling rumors about his condition. Spanish media follow Chavez and Venezuelan politics closely.

Based in Madrid, El País is one of the most prominent newspapers in the Spanish-speaking world, with a large readership in both Spain and South America.

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