Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s repeated trips to Cuba for cancer treatment and the government’s silence about his health are fueling rumors that he will name a successor to run in October’s presidential election.
Chavez returned to Cuba last Tuesday for what he called the “home stretch” of his radiation treatment, without providing more details. His previous stay, which was supposed to have been his last, lasted 11 days.
The exact nature of the cancer has never been disclosed. The 57-year-old underwent an operation in Havana on Feb. 26 to remove a second cancerous tumor in his pelvic area, where a baseball-sized growth was extracted a year ago.
So far, the government has -maintained there is no alternative to Chavez, who still leads in the polls.
However, talk has begun among observers over who will take the helm should Chavez delegate his powers. Venezuelan Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, Vice President Elias Jaua and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello are considered potential candidates.
The departure of Chavez would have profound consequences in Venezuela, where he has governed since 1999. It would also have a huge impact across Latin America.
Jaua is scheduled to be named president of the Council of State, an advisory body whose creation last week was seen by some analysts as the first step toward a potential political transition.
Usually highly visible all over the Venezuelan media, Chavez now rarely appears in public and has been reduced to tweeting during his long absences in Cuba.
Although the firebrand leftist leader’s health is overshadowing the run-up to the presidential campaign, “his absence is not yet having an effect on how most Venezuelans intend to vote,” analyst John Magdaleno said.
However, polling firm Datanalisis president Luis Vicente Leon warned that the government’s silence on Chavez’s well-being and ability to run the country could be a political strategy.
The electoral campaign officially gets under way on July 1, but the law permits replacing a candidate who is unable to run at any time, constitutional lawyer Enrique Sanchez Falcon said.
The most prominent face of the left in Latin America, Chavez has rallied a group of like-minded leaders to act as a counterweight to the influence of the US in the region.