Hugo Chavez: Venezuela facing prospect of political turmoil
Venezuela faced political turmoil and the possibility of new elections on Friday when it became increasingly unlikely that President Hugo Chavez would recover his health in time to be inaugurated for a new term next week.
By Fiona Govan, Madrid and Donna Bowater in Rio de Janeiro9:12PM GMT 04 Jan 20133 Comments
The government, which has given only vague updates on his condition since he flew to Cuba for emergency treatment, admitted that Mr Chavez's condition had worsened.
"The President has faced complications as a result of a severe respiratory infection. This infection has led to respiratory deficiency that requires Commandante Chavez to remain in strict compliance with his medical treatment," said Ernesto Villegas, the information minister.
Close aides and relations have flown to Havana for what some have interpreted as a final goodbye to Mr Chavez, 58, who has dominated Venezuela for 14 years. In recent days, his parents, six brothers and four children are reported to have flown to Cuba, along with a list of aunts, uncles, nephews and nieces. Mr Chavez has previously acknowledged that he was suffering from cancer and endured several rounds of treatment.
But he is due to be sworn in for another six-year term of office on Thursday.
Chavez being treated for 'severe lung infection' 04 Jan 2013
Chavez suffering 'severe' infection 04 Jan 2013
Chavez uncertainty 'a constitutional problem' 04 Jan 2013
Mr Chavez's enforced flight to Cuba has come during the highly sensitive interregnum between his re-election last October and his inauguration on Jan 10.
Exactly what would happen if Mr Chavez is still in hospital when inauguration day arrives is unclear. Under Venezuela's constitution, if the president dies or is "permanently incapacitated", new elections must be held within 30 days. In the meantime, the president of the National Assembly should take over as interim ruler.
But Mr Chavez's aides claim there is still time for him to recover - and they are are understood to be urging a postponement of the inauguration. The oppositon say this would be unconstitutional: they want an independent team of medical experts to be sent to Havana to assess the president's true state of health.
Mr Chavez chose his favoured successor last October when he made Nicolas Maduro vice-president. But Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly, would take over temporarily if the president dies. A power struggle between the two leading "Chavistas", Mr Maduro and Mr Cabello, could be looming.
Some opposition activists fear the next president could be more repressive than Mr Chavez. Francisco Toro, the founder of the "Caracas Chronicles" blog, said: "We did figure out some things with Chavismo in the last 14 years, which was they were not going to start rounding up people and throwing them in gulags. That's for poor countries. Chavez could afford to spend his way out of those mass support problems."
Mr Toro, 37, added: "We figured we were quite safe in that they were not going to start rounding up and shooting us. But we don't have that certainty any more."
Mr Maduro is a loyal "Chavista" who spent six years as foreign minister. If he takes over as president, he could prove more intolerant than his old mentor. "We don't know who Nicolas Maduro could turn out to be," said Mr Toro. "In any kind of cult of personality regime, this kind of transition coud be a transition to something worse."
The most worrying scenario, added Mr Toro, would be if Mr Chavez was unable to govern for an extended period. "The worst thing that could happen is that you have this kind of prolonged agony, where they manage to stabilise Chavez so that he's not dying but he cannot govern - and that goes on for weeks or months," he said.