Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s health may have taken a turn for the worse according to Vice President Nicolas Maduro, who announced on state television that the socialist leader is “battling for his health, for his life.”
Chavez, 58, remains hospitalized after returning to Caracas from Cuba last month, following a fourth cancer-related operation in less than two years and nearly two months of bedridden recovery in Havana.
“Our commander is sick because he gave his life for those who don't have anything," Maduro said Thursday on Venezuelan TV, referring to the majority of poor and working-class Venezuelans who support the president.
Chavez, who has been in office since 1999, was re-elected to another six-year term last October, but has yet to be officially inaugurated due to his poor health.
The Venezuelan government has said that Chavez has been governing the country from his hospital bed over the past two weeks since his return -- with little information revealed about his current health status.
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If Chavez is no longer able to continue in office, new presidential elections but be held within 30 days of an official declaration of his “absolute absence” in accordance with the Venezuelan constitution.
In December, before traveling to Cuba for medical treatment, Chavez began to make preparations for his potential departure from office, appointing Maduro as his political successor and asking his supporters to back him for president if new elections were to be held.
Opposition leader and Chavez’s main challenger in the October elections Henrique Capriles Radonksi would be a likely rival candidate in a snap election, which he hinted at in recent comments.
"A presidential election has not been called yet, but you have to be prepared and we are ready,” Capriles said, Reuters reported.
With the uncertainty surrounding Chavez’s health, the opposition has not been able to formally announce its would-be presidential candidate.
Capriles won an impressive 44 percent of the vote against Chavez’s 55 percent in October, but some analysts say Chavez’s cult of personality and populist social welfare policies will extend his broad support to Maduro.
"The death of the strongman will strengthen the movement and the regime," said Joaquin Villalobos, a former Marxist guerrilla leader in El Salvador who is now a political consultant and critic of leftist movements in Latin America, according to Reuters.
"The left has no other saint who has given away as many checks to as many people. His premature death will help (his movement) survive the consequences of his inefficient government," he added.
The opposition has previously garnered support by focusing on Venezuela’s rampant crime and high inflation.