Talk of Chavez cancer downturn rattles Venezuela

Fri May 4, 2012 1:59pm GMT

By Andrew Cawthorne

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's absence from the spotlight, his creation of a formal advisory committee, and media leaks of medical details are feeding speculation of a downturn in his nearly year-long battle with cancer.

With a presidential election looming for October 7 in the OPEC nation ruled by Chavez since 1999, Venezuelans are obsessively focused on his condition and fretting about the consequences of a possible succession struggle.

Should the rumours be true - and they are fiercely denied by government officials - an end to the Chavez era would shake Venezuela and have major repercussions around Latin America where leftist allies like Cuba depend on his oil-fuelled largesse.

Spending most of the last six weeks in Havana for radiotherapy treatment, Chavez has only been seen once live in public since mid-April - and he ended that short address on Monday choking on his words and with tears in his eyes.

"These are not easy days, but we are warriors," he said.

That image has stuck in Venezuelans' minds, echoing a Mass last month where Chavez wept and asked God to spare his life.

Further stoking the rumour-mill, Chavez this week created a new Council of State, intended to act as an advisory committee. It is composed of veteran loyalists including a military officer and octogenarian confidant Jose Vicente Rangel.

Chavez's first task for the council, which looks similar to a body by the same name in communist-run Cuba, is to study his recommendation that Venezuela leave an Americas-wide regional human rights court.   Continued...

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez stands at the People's balcony at Miraflores Palace in Caracas April 13, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins
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