Cancer-stricken president insists he will be candidate for re-election in October, but many doubt his future.
Guardian Weekly, Tuesday 15 May 2012 08.59 EDT
Last month the Venezuelan president, Hugo Chávez, convened the first session of the council of state. Opposition parties are convinced the aim is to avoid a power vacuum. The decision certainly confirms the impression that the transition process is under way.
The first topic on the council’s agenda is Venezuela‘s withdrawal from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which Chávez condemns as a tool of “US imperialism”.
The president, who has cancer, returned to Cuba to continue radiation therapy. Before leaving he acknowledged that these were not “easy days”, but said he was still “a warrior for facing adversity […] with faith in God and Christ the Redeemer”. Returning home, Chávez and said the therapy was successful.
The subject is so sensitive for United Socialist party (PSUV) militants that almost no one dares to discuss it openly. But everyone wants to know who will replace Chávez.
Since January Chávez has spent more than a third of his time in Havana but he is still the party’s official candidate for the presidential election on 7 October. The PSUV is adamant: Chávez will be cured and he will win. But the outlook seems increasingly gloomy.
According to the opposition press a war of succession has already broken out in the PSUV ranks, opposing members of the president’s inner circle. “People like Ali Rodriguez, several times minister, and José Vicente Rangel, who has served as a minister and as vice-president, enjoy considerable prestige, but they are too old to take over,” says one militant.
The three most visible contenders are vice-president Elías Jaua, 42, foreign minister Nicolás Maduro, 49, and Diosdado Cabello, also 49, who was appointed as chair of the National Assembly in January.
Chávez, who has been in power for 13 years, seems irreplaceable. “Chávez controls the state, the army, the party and welfare organisations. No one enjoys the same legitimacy, no one can claim to replace him. If he does leave politics, there would be several transition processes: to find a short-term stand-in, a new leader, and a candidate capable of winning the election. They are not necessarily the same person,” says political analyst Carlos Romero.
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