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Return of Chavez is no sure thing

Even as Venezuela's president recovers from cancer surgery, the possibility of new elections loom
Last modified: 19 Feb 2013 21:41
[Photo: Reuters]

Outside the military hospital in Caracas where Hugo Chavez is continuing his treatment for cancer, chants of "Viva Chavez" fill the streets as passing drivers beep their horns loudly in celebration.

But there is not a huge throng of supporters here, where only a hardy few have set up camp.

That does not reflect a lack of support for the 58-year-old president, his many supporters are overjoyed but people here need to keep working and earning their recently devalued currency.

Some basic foods like rice, sugar and flour are now hard to come by, and still there is one central question; is Hugo Chavez well enough to lead?

According to officials, Chavez is facing a long and complex recovery, breathing through a tube but still reportedly running the country.

For opposition leaders that is not good enough, they want an honest conversation, and no matter how confident Chavez sounds via his Twitter account, his future, and that of the entire country, remains precariously mired in uncertainty.

Since his return, Chavez has not been seen, he is reportedly being treated on the ninth floor of the hospital, but this has not been a triumphant return for the normally publicity hungry president.

He returned from surgery in Cuba under the cover of darkness, perhaps a fitting scenario for a leader who has been battling an unspecified cancer for almost two years.

If Chavez indicates he cannot carry on, or if ultimately the commandant dies, a snap election will have to be held within 30 days.

A recent poll still suggests that Chavez's named successor, Nicolas Maduro, would cruise to a comfortable victory, but that may be more about the legacy of the president than the qualities of his vice president.

Even the state-run newspaper has been mentioning the possibility of an election, an admission that may mean Venezuelans should prepare themselves for a future without the charismatic man that has so completely encompassed his socialist revolution.

What ever happens here in the coming days, weeks and months, the ubiquitous Chavez will survive in spirit if not in person, but that has not stopped the speculation over whether the revolution will last without the man.