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Question marks over health of Venezuela's president Hugo Chavez

Just who is pulling the strings in South America’s largest oil producer, while Hugo Chavez recovers from surgery in Cuba?

Image: Eraldo Peres/AP

VENEZUELA’S PRESIDENT Hugo Chavez remains in Cuba almost two weeks after undergoing surgery to remove an abscess from his pelvis – long after the 56-year-old had indicated he was to return home, prompting fears about his state.

Chavez had undergone the surgery shortly after arriving in Cuba on June 9 as part of a tour of Latin American countries. Reuters quoted a government statement as saying he had been diagnosed with a ”new health problem, which was immediately assessed by his medical team,”

But while his government said he would return to action in a ‘few days’, he has yet to return to full duties – provoking suspicions that the self-proclaimed socialist revolutionary may not be up for retaining the job.

While Chavez is usually known for retaining an active executive role even when abroad, it is thought his only action so far has been to make a single phone call to the state TV broadcaster.

One Argentinian analyst told Bloomberg that Chavez’s natural instinct would be to get back to active life as soon as possible – and the fact that he appears not to be hurrying back to work is “suspicious”.

The government has dismissed such fears, saying Chavez remains involved in government activity – pointing to legal measures approved by him, while in Cuba, which have appeared in the country’s official gazette.

His vice-president, Elias Jaua, has also been quick to dismiss suggestions that he become leader in Chavez’s absence, asserting his loyalty to his absent superior.

A Financial Times blogger has noted that many in Cuba have likened Chavez’s current medical state to that of Fidel Castro, who nominally remained in power in Cuba for some time after he became too physically incapacitated to rule.

Venezuela is South America’s largest oil-producing country, and so the country’s long-term political outlook is particularly important to more industrial states.

A presidential election is set for next year, but opposition parties have delayed holding primaries to choose their candidates – moves which have been criticised from within the parties, particularly in light of the possibility that Chavez may not seek a fourth four-year term.

About the author:

Gavan Reilly

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