Celebrations cancelled amid fears for Chávez


New Year’s Eve celebrations were cancelled in Caracas as authorities called on Venezuelans to pray for their president Hugo Chávez, after reports he was suffering “new complications” in his battle against cancer.

The medical bulletin from the country’s vice-president Nicolás Maduro sparked the abandonment of the traditional concert in Plaza Bolivar in downtown Caracas, increasing worries among the president’s supporters that his health was deteriorating.

Mr Chávez underwent surgery on December 11th in a hospital in Havana, his second since June 2011 when he had a baseball-sized tumour removed from his pelvic region. The type of his cancer and details of his treatment have not been made known, fuelling months of rumours about his health across Latin America.

While a downbeat Mr Maduro said the president was “delicate”, science minister Jorge Arreaza took to Twitter on Monday to say he had spent a “stable and tranquil day” with his children and warned supporters not to fall for “bad-intentioned rumours” about Mr Chávez’s health.

Speculation has been heightened because Mr Chávez is due to be sworn in for a third term on January 10th following his thumping victory in October’s presidential election, during which he claimed he was fully cured.

If Mr Chávez were to die before the inauguration, power would pass on that date to Diosdado Cabello, the president of the country’s congress.

Corrupt but pragmatic

A former military conspirator with Mr Chávez, he is a leading representative of the nationalist military wing of Mr Chávez’s movement, viewed as corrupt but pragmatic even by many of the president’s civilian supporters.

If Mr Chávez were to be inaugurated on January 10th but forced to step aside, power would pass to Mr Maduro, the vice-president. He would then have to call new presidential elections. Mr Chávez anointed Mr Maduro as his successor before his most recent operation.

A union leader, he is seen as a leader of the civilian arm of Mr Chávez’s “Bolivarian” revolution and closer to the socialist groupings that want to deepen Mr Chávez’s drive to nationalise the economy and give local communes more control over public spending.