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Chavez Resting After New Setback in Battle Against Cancer

By Charlie Devereux and Jose Orozco
January 01, 2013 3:24 PM EST 27 Comments
Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president.
Photographer: Juan Baretto/AFP/Getty Images
Hugo Chavez, Venezuela's president.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s family said the ailing leader spent a day resting following a new setback in his battle against cancer, dismissing speculation on social media that he’d passed away in a Cuban hospital.

Technology Minister Jorge Arreaza, Chavez’s son-in-law, wrote on his Twitter account that Chavez spent a “calm and stable” day yesterday accompanied by his children. Arreaza is in Cuba along with other members of Chavez’s family as the 58- year-old leader struggles to recover from a fourth surgery in 18 months to treat an unspecified form of cancer. Arreaza told supporters not to believe “the rumors” of Chavez’s death.

Chavez suffered new complications in his battle against cancer, forcing his vice president and chosen successor to stay on in Cuba as the president struggles to recover from a respiratory infection.

“We were informed of new complications that occurred as a result of the respiratory infection we already knew about,” Vice President Nicolas Maduro said Dec. 30. “The president’s state of health continues to be delicate, presenting complications that are being attended to in a process not without risks.”

Maduro made the announcement in a national address from Havana. Chavez, who won a third presidential term on Oct. 7, hasn’t appeared in public since flying to Cuba 22 days ago to undergo surgery. He is due to start his third six-year term on Jan. 10, though the government has said that the date and place for the swearing-in ceremony are flexible.

‘Death Watch’

“The important and telling thing is that Maduro didn’t go back to Venezuela,” said Russ Dallen, head bond trader at Caracas Capital Markets, in an Dec. 31 interview from Miami. “Why would he not come back unless it’s death watch?”

Maduro said that he had met with Chavez’s medical team several times since flying to Cuba on Dec. 29, and that Chavez told him personally about the new complications. Maduro didn’t provide details on the developments.

“We’ve decided to stay in Havana for the coming hours to accompany the comandante and the family, staying on top of the evolution of his current situation,” Maduro said.

Chavez, who named his socialist revolution after the 19th- century South American liberator Simon Bolivar, was last seen in public boarding a Cuba-bound plane Dec. 10. The Venezuelan government today released a statement it said was by Chavez in which he congratulated Cuba on the 54th anniversary of its revolution.

‘Fraternal Solidarity’

“On this very special Jan. 1, when the circumstances of the fight for life have united the Cuban and Bolivarian revolutions more than ever, we come together in prayer and in hope to celebrate our fraternal solidarity,” said the statement, which was e-mailed to media.

Chavez said on Dec. 8 that voters should elect Maduro to protect his legacy if his illness prevents him from remaining in office.

Caracas Mayor Jorge Rodriguez, a top Chavez ally, canceled a New Year’s Eve concert in downtown Caracas’s Plaza Bolivar, asking that people gather to pray for Chavez’s health instead, the mayor’s office said in a Twitter message.

Chavez suffered “complications” during his fourth operation for cancer on Dec. 11 due to bleeding, Maduro said Dec. 13. Surgeons took corrective measures in time to control the bleeding, he said.

‘Stable’ Condition

A week later, Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said that Chavez was in “stable” condition after his medical team controlled a respiratory infection.

By Dec. 24, Maduro told state television that Chavez had recovered enough to talk with him for about 20 minutes, including 15 minutes the former paratrooper devoted to giving economic instructions. Venezuela’s leader was in good spirits, walking and doing some exercises, Maduro said.

Should Chavez die, the manner in which power is passed to a new leadership may depend on whether Diosdado Cabello is re- elected as National Assembly president in a vote scheduled for Jan. 5, said Dallen.

Under the constitution, if Chavez is unable to start his new term on Jan. 10 and doesn’t step down, the National Assembly president must determine if the absence is temporary or permanent. If his absence is deemed permanent, the head of parliament must call for an election within 30 days, though Cabello wields sufficient power to delay the vote and remain in power, Dallen said.

Chosen Successor

While Chavez earmarked Maduro as his successor, Cabello, a former lieutenant who fought alongside Chavez in a 1992 attempted coup, is by no means out of the picture, Dallen said.

Maduro and Cabello “are both moving their players on the grand chessboard,” Dallen said. “It’s in Cabello’s interests to play the long game. It’s in Maduro’s interests for things to happen more rapidly because the government is popular right now and he’s the chosen successor.”

Cabello said Dec. 26 that Chavez’s electoral victory outweighs swearing-in protocol and that the constitution doesn’t dictate the time and place of the ceremony.

“What’s true is that everything points to 2013 being a hard year of big changes,” opposition leader Henrique Capriles Radonski, who lost to Chavez by more than 10 percentage points on Oct. 7, wrote on his blog yesterday in an end-of-year message titled “2013: The future is ours.”

To contact the reporters on this story: Charlie Devereux in Caracas at cdevereux3@bloomberg.net; Jose Orozco in Caracas at jorozco8@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Philip Sanders at psanders@bloomberg.net

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