A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a picture of him, as she attends a ceremony in Caracas December 31, 2012. (Photo : Reuters)
As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez continues to recuperate in Cuba after his fourth cancer surgery three weeks ago, moderate opposition leaders are demanding to know whether he is healthy enough to be sworn in to a fourth presidential term on Jan. 10.
Chavez has not spoken or been seen in public since his surgery on Dec. 11, and opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo said that if Chavez cannot make the inauguration, a constitutionally-mandated special election should take place within 30 days.
"To make us believe the president is governing shows a lack of seriousness that borders on irresponsibility," Aveledo said.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said this week that Chavez was in a "delicate" condition and had a respiratory infection.
Since Chavez has never revealed what kind of cancer he has, some Venezuelans speculate that it is terminal.
Indeed, before leaving for Cuba, Chavez designated Maduro his heir apparent, in case he didn't survive or wasn't healthy enough to continue governing.
That scenario may have come to pass, but if so, Maduro's succession is far from assured.
He would face a challenge from Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly and an old revolutionary and ally of Chavez.
Adan, the older brother of Chavez and a current Venezuelan state governor, could also mount a campaign.
But all these leftists vying for power could split the socialist vote in any new election.
Chavez won last year's election against moderate Henrique Capriles by 8 points, but Capriles is popular among the young, and among expatriate Venezuelans in America, who could pour money into another shot at a campaign many of them thought they would win the first time.
Supporters across Central America are beginning to prepare for a difficult succession. "The situation is very worrisome," said Chavez ally Evo Morales, leftist president of Bolivia.
"I have already spoken with the family. I have tried to communicate with the vice president," he said. "It has been difficult, but I hope our prayers can be effective in saving the life of the brother President Chavez."