Wed, Jul 20, 2011 - Page 7 News List

Chavez to run in 2012, official says

Reuters, CARACAS

There is no doubt Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez will run for re-election next year despite returning to Cuba for more treatment after cancer surgery, the OPEC nation’s finance minister said on Monday.

The 56-year-old leader’s announcement he had undergone an operation in Havana last month to remove a baseball-sized tumor has rocked the political situation in South America’s biggest oil exporter.

Parliamentary elections in September last year showed the nation essentially split down the middle between Chavez supporters and opponents. Now, a fractious opposition coalition senses a chance to unseat a convalescing Chavez next year.

Before flying back to Cuba on Saturday for chemotherapy, Chavez said doctors had found no malignant cells in his body after the surgery. However, his illness has raised doubts about his fitness to govern the country of 29 million people.

“I think there is no doubt the president will be present at the 2012 elections and then for many more years,” Venezuelan Minister of Planning and Finance Jorge Giordani said in an interview with state TV.

Chavez has resisted opposition demands to hand over the presidency temporarily during his time abroad. Instead, he has delegated some limited powers, including budgetary matters, to Giordani and Venezuelan Vice President Elias Jaua.

Stoking concerns about the handling of state affairs during the president’s absence, Jaua gave a slurred welcoming speech at a regional sports event on Sunday that led many commentators online to suggest he was drunk.

Chavez, whose folksy charisma and image of invincibility have helped him win numerous ballots, is visibly weakened as he plans his re-election campaign. He has conceded he will have to temper his famously workaholic leadership style.

Chavez has not said what type of cancer he has, nor exactly how long he will be out of the country this time. He said on Saturday he would be ready to fly home again “in a few days.”

One source close to Chavez’s medical team in Venezuela has said he is suffering from colon cancer that could require months of chemotherapy. That has not been confirmed.

Opposition politicians say his absence while in Havana as the guest of his friend and political mentor, former Cuban leader Fidel Castro, puts the country’s security risk.

The former soldier had looked reasonably assured of winning another six-year term next year when his illness struck. He is still the only declared candidate for the election, but questions are inevitably being asked about his condition.

With the president out of the country and not flooding the airwaves with his hours-long speeches, his rivals will hope to capitalize ahead of opposition primaries due in February next year.

Venezuelan Deputy Maria Corina Machado announced her candidacy for the primaries on Sunday, two days after the attorney general’s office began investigating an allegation of corruption against the opposition frontrunner, Miranda State Governor Henrique Capriles.

“Populism must be combated, but not with more populism,” Machado told private TV network Globovision, predicting a win by the opposition next year. “A new era will be born.”

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