President Hugo Chávez’s repeated trips to Cuba for cancer treatment and the government’s silence about his health are fueling rumors that he will name a successor to run in October presidential elections.
So far, the government has fiercely maintained that there is no alternative to Chávez, who still leads in the polls. But several names have begun to circulate among observers to take the helm should Chávez delegate his powers.
Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro, Vice President Elías Jaua, and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello are considered potential candidates. They are already cited in polls, triggering speculation over the ramifications of a possible succession battle.
Any departure of Chávez from the national stage would have profound consequences in Venezuela, where he has governed since 1999. It would also have a huge impact across Latin America, especially in leftist ally nations which have been showered with his country’s oil wealth.
Chávez returned to Cuba on Tuesday for what he called the “home stretch” of his radiation treatment, without providing more details. His previous stay, which was supposed to have been his last, stretched out for 11 days.
The exact nature of the cancer has never been disclosed. The 57-year-old underwent an operation in Havana on February 26 to remove a second cancerous tumor in his pelvic area, where a baseball-sized growth was extracted a year ago.
Usually all over the Venezuelan media, Chávez now rarely appears in public and has been reduced to sending out tweets during his long absences in Cuba.
Chávez is running for reelection as a “revolutionary socialist” against Henrique Capriles Radonski, the youthful Miranda state governor and center-left candidate for the united opposition.