Saturday, July 16, 2011
WOW!!! FIDEL!!! - Chavez Chemotherapy Raises Re-election Doubts
By Frank Jack Daniel
CARACAS | Fri Jul 15, 2011 10:53pm EDT
(Reuters) - President Hugo Chavez will return to Cuba this weekend for chemotherapy to treat cancer, raising questions about his fitness to fight a campaign for re-election in a 2012 vote.
Less than two weeks after a triumphant arrival from the Caribbean island following surgery to remove a "baseball sized" tumor, the socialist president now faces a possibly prolonged spell away from home.
Here are some implications of his announcement:
* The 56-year-old former soldier formally requested Parliament approve his trip to Cuba, suggesting he expects to be away from the OPEC nation for more than a few days. That will be seen as a sign his cancer is far from cured. It also puts the spotlight on the lack of obvious successors who can take over the reins of government in his absence.
* He will come under pressure to temporarily hand over power to Vice President Elias Jaua. Opponents say it is impossible for Chavez to effectively govern the country of 29 million people from a Cuban hospital bed. The president will resist calls to step aside, however, since they echo a power vacuum during a short-lived coup against him back in 2002.
* Chavez has ruled Venezuela for 12 years and was warming up for a bid for another six-year term next year when the illness struck. He is still the only declared candidate for the election, but questions will inevitably be asked about his fitness to run. At the very least, his campaign will be shorter and more subdued than he would like. At worst, he may be forced to drop out.
* Markets have never shown any love for Chavez and his socialist policies, and will likely react with barely-veiled jubilation at his continued illness. Expect Venezuela's widely-traded bonds to rally on Monday. Last month, debt prices jumped on the news he had cancer, as investors saw an increased chance of a more market-friendly government replacing him after the election. Some have predicted that "regime change" in Venezuela could easily compress credit spreads around 500 basis points. Prices fell back after he returned to Venezuela.
* Opposition politicians, such as Henrique Capriles, the current favorite to challenge Chavez, publicly hope for his quick recovery to fight him fair and square at the ballot box next year. But Chavez's new weakness is undoubtedly a benefit for his opponents, who have been trounced time and time again by the populist and sometimes authoritarian president.
* It is still far too early to write off Chavez as a political force. Although he has not revealed details of his illness, some specialists and sources say he is likely to have colon cancer. If it was caught in time and treated well he could have a high chance of survival. Since the divided opposition does not chose its candidate until February, Chavez may have time to recover and make a triumphant return to the campaign trail.
* A government-aligned poll showed an early "sympathy bump" in popularity for the president, but other pollsters say they expect little change in his ratings, which hover around 50 percent. If his sickness drags on, voters may be concerned about his chances of governing effectively during a new term.
* Despite Chavez's absence, the government's stability does not look compromised, at least for now. Venezuela's military leadership has repeatedly sworn its loyalty to him and has shown no signs of fractures that could lead to armed conflict.
* Opposition leaders remain focused on primary elections slated for February that will determine a unity candidate to face Chavez. Despite having staged frequent street protests, national strikes and a bungled coup in the past, no opposition leaders have called for civil disorder in the latest crisis.
* Last month's surprise stay in Cuba for surgery led to behind-the-scenes jostling between different factions of the ruling Socialist Party -- but no obvious cracks appeared in the alliance of fellow military men, former guerrilla fighters and young leftists who form the Chavez government. None of the senior figures in his administration have anything like his charisma or national appeal, and politicians of all stripes will be closely following Chavez's progress.
* Cuba will be anxious over his illness. The communist-led island's ailing economy depends heavily on subsidized oil from Venezuela, which is also true of some other nations in Central America and the Caribbean. Chavez critics have long vowed to scrap what they call a reckless giveaway of national resources if they win power.