Over the weekend Hugo Chavez, President of Venezuela for 14 years, announced that he would travel to Cuba for cancer treatment.Venezuelans have some reason to be surprised at the announcement: Chavez had twice declared himself free of cancer, Reuters notes, and just a few months ago he had campaigned for and won the presidential election.
Chavez’s cancer is a big deal because his incapacitation could throw the country into chaos.
The president knows this, of course, which is why he appears to be grooming his successor, notes Sean Burges, a senior associate in the Australian National Centre for Latin American Studies at the Australian National University, in the Australian:
Chavez appears to be planning for the enactment of Article 232. He made a pre-surgery whistle stop return to Caracas last weekend to unambiguously name Nicolas Maduro as his Vice-President and heir, calling on Venezuelans to support his candidacy should a new presidential election be required. In effect Chavez is trying to exercise a practice that Mexicans under the 71-year authoritarian rule of the Institutional Revolutionary Party knew as the “dedazo”, or the touch of the president’s finger to anoint the chosen successor.
The question is whether Chavez’s cult of personality will extend to his chosen successor. Burge fears it won’t:
Although Chavez is explicitly naming Maduro, a former bus driver and grass roots general for the Bolivarian movement, as his successor and protector of the revolution, there is no wider consensus or actual agreement that the vice-president should assume the reins of power. In particular, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello harbours his own presidential ambitions.
Cabello brings his own revolutionary credibility, which stretches back to active participation in Chavez’s 1992 failed coup attempt and successive ministerial posts over the past decade. For Chavez the worst case scenario is that his two lieutenants will engage in a bitter struggle for power that will split the leftist vote and leave the way open for victory by Henrique Capriles, who garnered 46 per cent of the vote in last October’s presidential ballot. With the dominating force of Chavez’s personality interred this is also a very likely scenario.
In a country with widespread corruption, a powerful military, and links to the drugs trade, this is especially scary. Even before October’s election, there was widespread talk of an armed conflict if Chavez was not elected.