Preparing to Pass the Torch

Written on December 21, 2012 by Ángeles Figueroa-Alcorta in Americas, Culture & Society, Democracy & Human Rights

Seriously ill, Hugo Chávez names Nicolás Maduro as his successor on the eve of an election for state governors.

When campaigning for a new six-year term earlier this year, Hugo Chávez tried to persuade Venezuelans that he was cured of unspecified “pelvic” cancer, first diagnosed in June 2011. “I’ve forgotten all about that,” he bragged, just days before the election on October 7th, which he won with 55% of the vote. He then disappeared from view, except for an occasional, carefully staged broadcast. But on November 27th he left for medical treatment in Havana, returning briefly last weekend with a very different story—one that would seem to presage his imminent retirement from his country’s politics, and perhaps from life itself.

“It is absolutely imperative that I undergo surgery in the next few days,” a sombre Mr Chávez said in a broadcast address to the nation late on December 8th. Tests had shown that “malignant cells [had] reappeared” where tumours had twice before been removed. For the first time he spoke of the need to anticipate “any unforeseen circumstance” that might prevent him from continuing as president. In an apparent desire to forestall jockeying for the succession, he named his vice-president and foreign minister as his political heir. “My firm, full—like the moon is full—absolute and total opinion…is that you should elect Nicolás Maduro as president of the republic,” he declared, before swiftly returning to Havana.

Mr Chávez underwent a six-hour operation on December 11th, which a grim-faced Mr Maduro said was “successful” but “complex, difficult and delicate”. Mr Chávez’s new term does not officially begin until January 10th. Whether he will be fit enough for the inauguration is unclear. Should the president die or be permanently unable to do the job at any point in the first four years of his term, the constitution says that a fresh election should be held within 30 days. Read more…

As published in www.economist.com on December 15, 2012 (from the print edition).


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