By Andre Bagoo and Clint Chan Tack
Friday, December 12 2008
PRIME MINISTER Patrick Manning left hurriedly yesterday for Cuba to undergo surgery at the Cimex Hospital in Havana to remove a malignant tumour in his left kidney.
Manning made the startling revelation at the weekly post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, where he was the only minister present.
Hours later, Manning left on board a Panamanian Copa aircraft. He told reporters that all steps have been taken to ensure that the Government functions smoothly until he returns home in early January 2009.
His wife, Local Government Minister Hazel Manning sat quietly and sadly in a corner as Manning gave the worrisome news to reporters.
Asked if he and his family were distressed and worried about the sudden situation, Manning said: “I have no fear of death and therefore I have no undue concern in this matter.”
Speaking briefly with reporters afterwards in the foyer of the Office of the PM, Manning said it was too early to tell if there is a risk of his cancer spreading to other parts of his body.
“They have only now found it. It’s a preliminary diagnosis and it’s too soon to say,” Manning told Newsday. He said he had not experienced any signs or symptoms that something was wrong, right up to the diagnosis, saying, “no, none, none at all.”
When the media arrived at the Prime Minister’s Office for the conference at 11.45 am, there was no indication that this would be different and as usual, staffers were unable to say which government ministers would be addressing the conference.
A flurry of preparations within the conference room and the appearance of Manning’s senior advisors suggested that only the Prime Minister would be speaking. However when Manning entered the room around noon, he appeared to lack his usual vigour and seemed jaded and tired.
The Prime Minister said when he left for Cuba on December 4, one of the reasons he went there was for medical attention.
On that day at the post-Cabinet news conference, Information Minister Neil Parsanlal said: “The Prime Minister is going for his regular check-up as he has been going for the last few years since his surgery. That is not a secret.” Manning had a pacemaker implant done in Cuba in 2004 as a follow up to heart surgery which he underwent on the island in 1998 when he was Opposition Leader to correct leaking valves in his heart. The Prime Minister has gone to Cuba regularly since 2004 for medical check-ups.
However on this occasion, Manning said: “The medical attention went very well but the results are not very encouraging. It has been discovered that I have a malignant tumour in my left kidney.”
The Prime Minister added that because the tumour was discovered in its early stages by his Cuban doctors, “surgical removal is all that is required.”
He explained that because of his heart condition, he is on a tablet which lengthens the time it takes for the blood to coagulate.
“So the process will involve seven days to be weaned off of that drug , then the operation should take place either next week Thursday or Friday.
“Then there will be a two week recuperation period before I return home sometime in early January,” Manning stated. However specialists here believe recuperation will take much longer.
The Prime Minister explained that because of his surgery and recuperation in Cuba, “we have had to cancel the leave of all ministers with immediate effect.
“All ambassadors have been mandated to stay at their posts until I return to Trinidad and Tobago,” he said.
Manning added that he informed President George Maxwell Richards about his surgery on Wednesday and that he would be away from yesterday until around January 3.
While Manning spoke, a concerned Foreign Affairs Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon sat amongst the media. As he concluded his statement, Manning asked reporters: “Questions please?”
When no questions were forthcoming minutes later, a surprised Manning asked reporters: “All is well?”
This prompted a flurry of questions not about his medical condition but about the economy, crime and next year’s Fifth Summit of the Americas and Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting and even the Udecott inquiry.
Manning spoke slowly as he answered all of these questions. When the questions finally turned back briefly to his health, Manning said the surgery was not being done locally because he had been under the care of Cuban doctors at the Cemex Hospital “for over ten years” for his heart condition.
Asked if Diego Martin West MP Dr Keith Rowley was qualified to act as PNM political leader if should he die, the Prime Minister smiled and quipped: “I will not be here. Read my lips.”
Recalling that deceased Prime Minister Dr Eric Williams stated in 1976 that he would not pick his successor, Manning said: “That has not changed. That is not a matter for me. At any rate, why are we discussing that subject? There is no vacancy.”
Adding that his wife had “kindly consented” to accompany him to Cuba, the Prime Minister was confident that his surgery would be successful.
Downplaying rumours of a Cabinet reshuffle, Manning expressed confidence in his year-old administration to govern the country effectively during his absence.
The Prime Minister said while it was “not a perfect government,” all of its members “by and large” have performed very well in their respective roles since last November’s general election.
Given the fact that he will spend Christmas and New Year’s Day recuperating in Cuba, the Prime Minister used the conference to deliver his Christmas message to the nation.
“I would like to wish to members of the national community that they experience a very happy and holy Christmas.” Manning urged citizens not to leave Jesus Christ out of Christmas and hoped “that we move on to much brighter prospects in the new year 2009.”
“God’s blessings on the national community,” the Prime Minister said as he concluded the conference.
After speaking with reporters, Manning, accompanied by his wife Hazel, made his way to the building’s elevator and to the upper floors of the Office of the Prime Minister.
Mrs Manning then left for the Prime Minister’s Residence and Diplomatic Centre, St Ann’s while her husband remained at his office. The Prime Minister eventually left the building at 1.55 pm, being driven in a black Toyota bearing the licence plate ‘PM I’ and not a national coat of arms as had previously been the case.
Instead there was a small flag on the left-hand side of the car which displayed an image of the national flag, alongside the coat of arms. The Prime Minister’s car was accompanied by two others.
The entire motorcade then drove to La Fantasie where the Mannings made preparations to leave the country, according to aides.
Mrs Manning yesterday afternoon offered no comment over her husband’s illness. Her spokesperson, Marva Newton, said the Local Government minister would not be issuing any statement given her “preoccupation with her husband’s health at this time.” She said she would possibly issue a statement today.
The Mannings’ flight left Piarco International Airport at 5.49 pm. His flight was due to arrive in Panama last night at 7.25 pm, and then in Havana at 11.17 pm. The Prime Minister travelled on Copa Airlines last week when he went to Cuba.
Trade and Industry Minister Dr Lenny Saith, who will act as Prime Minister until Manning returns, was amongst several top government officials who saw him off at the airport.
1960- At the age of 14, Patrick Manning was hospitalised for five weeks with rheumatic fever. This damaged the valves of his heart.
1998- In April, Manning, the Leader of the Opposition, took a month off as he travelled to Venezuela to have medical tests. At the time the media was told that Manning had gone on vacation. However a month later, Manning told the media surgery was done on April 21 in Cuba to repair two valves in his heart. Two artificial valves were implanted during the three and a half hour surgery.
2004- In August, Manning as Prime Minister travelled to Cuba for a pacemaker (a small device that’s placed under the skin of the chest or abdomen to help control abnormal heart rhythms) to be inserted. The surgery was done based on advice from Cuban doctors after routine medical tests. Manning has returned to Cuba since 2004 for annual medical examinations.