Speculation grows that Chávez is close to death
Hugo Chávez “is absolutely aware” that he faces a “complex” phase in his battle against cancer, said his vice-president, amid increasing speculation that the Venezuelan leader is close to death.
In a TV interview on Tuesday night Nicolás Maduro denounced the rumours as the work of “people mentally ill and sick with hate who have no limits” and warned that “a crazy right [wing]” was behind them in order to provoke unrest within Venezuela.
Speaking to the pro-Chávez TeleSur network, an emotional sounding Mr Maduro related how Mr Chávez had gripped his hand “with a gigantic force” at their last meeting during which they spoke. He said that in the weeks since an operation on December 11th he had shown “mild improvement, at time stationary situations”.
“We are confident that he will continue improving and exit this complex post-operational [stage],” he said.
Mr Maduro announced that he was returning to Caracas following a five-day trip to Havana, where Mr Chávez is undergoing treatment. The news immediately sparked speculation about whether it signalled an improvement in Mr Chávez’s health or the approach of death, with Mr Maduro rushing back to prepare for a succession battle.
Mr Chávez must return to Venezuela by January 10th for his fourth swearing in as president following his victory in October’s presidential election. If he fails to do so, power will pass to Diosdado Cabello, the president of congress, who would then have to organise new elections.
In his last public appearance on December 8th, Mr Chávez anointed Mr Maduro as his successor, but the exact nature of the union leader’s relationship with the former military men gathered around Mr Cabello is unknown, raising the spectre of a succession battle were Mr Chávez to succumb to his disease.
Mr Maduro is considered close to the Cuban government, which is providing Mr Chávez’s treatment. The Cuban economy has come to rely heavily on subsidies from oil-rich Venezuela, but the military wing of Mr Chávez’s movement has shown signs in recent years that it resents the influence Cuban advisers exert over Venezuela’s economy and security apparatus.