Venezuela dismisses Chavez illness rumours

Vice-president says country's leader is "recuperating to continue the battle" after undergoing surgery in Cuba.

    Former Cuban President Fidel Castro, left, and his brother Raul, right, visited Chavez in hospital on June 17 [EPA]

    Venezuela's vice-president has rejected suggestions that President Hugo Chavez is gravely ill, two weeks after he underwent emergency surgery in Cuba.

    Elias Jaua said on Saturday that Chavez was "recuperating to continue the battle" and would soon be ready to counter his political opponents and media speculation.

    "The national and international press are rubbing their hands and rejoicing about the state of the president's health", Jaua said.

    "They [the opposition] know they cannot win the elections against our commander, Hugo Chavez, so they are always waiting for a situation like this to try to overtake us".

    Chavez has been in Cuba since June 8, when he arrived there on the final leg of a trip that also included Brazil and Ecuador. He was rushed into emergency surgery after suffering sharp pain diagnosed as a pelvic abscess that required immediate surgery.

    The president's brother told Venezuelan state media on Wednesday that Chavez could return to Caracas in about two weeks.

    The president is scheduled to host a summit of Latin American leaders on July 5.

    Twitter messages

    Chavez has not been speaking in public since he told Venezuelan state television by telephone on June 12 that he was recovering quickly after the surgery. He said medical tests showed no sign of any "malignant" illness.

    Chavez is normally a regular user of the micro-blogging site Twitter, but no messages were posted to the site for 19 days until Friday, when he congratulated the armed forces on a public holiday that celebrates a key military victory over Spanish colonial forces in 1821.

    Three messages also appeared within 30 minutes on Saturday afternoon, including one mentioning visits by Chavez's daughter Rosines and grandchildren.

    "Ah, what happiness it is to receive this shower of love!" a Twitter message read. "God bless them!"

    Opposition legislators, who control 40 per cent of Venezuela's parliament, argue that his prolonged absence means that the vice-president should replace him.

    Under Venezuela's constitution, Jaua would take the president's place during "temporary" absences of up to 90 days. Jaua would serve the rest of Chavez's term if the president were to die or resign.

    No clear successor

    Presidential elections are due next year, and speculation about Chavez's health has prompted some to ponder what would happen if his health forced him to relinquish power.

    Steve Ellner, a political science professor at Venezuela's University of the East, believes the future of Chavez's political movement would largely depend on whether he designates a successor.

    "There is no second-in-command in the Chavez movement,'' Ellner said. "If Chavez is unable to endorse anyone, there will inevitably be dissension."

    Ellner said the situation would be much different if Chavez threw his support behind a would-be successor.

    "There is a great sense of loyalty within the Chavez movement," he said.

    "If Chavez himself is unable to run for physical reasons, but endorses a given candidate, the movement will not fall apart."

    While there are no obvious candidates to succeed Chavez, some observers believe the president could pick Jaua or Rafael Ramirez, Venezuela's energy minister.

    Diosdado Cabello, a former army officer who joined a 1992 coup attempt led by Chavez, was once perceived as Chavez's closest confidant. But Cabello's standing seems to have faded since he lost a 2008 re-election bid as the governor of Miranda state to a prominent opposition leader.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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