Analysis: High stakes for Cuba in Chavez's cancer battle

Tue Dec 18, 2012 7:19am EST
 
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By Marc Frank

HAVANA (Reuters) - As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez recovers in Havana from his fourth cancer operation, Cubans face renewed worries about their economic future if the country's top ally dies or has to step down from office.

Cuba has staked its economic well-being on the success - and generosity - of Chavez's self-declared socialist revolution, much as it did with another former benefactor: the Soviet Union.

Cubans vividly remember the great depression of the 1990s that followed the demise of the Soviet Union, and they worry about the communist-run island plunging into similar economic hardship if Chavez loses his struggle with cancer.

In the 1990s, they suffered through severe shortages of food, consumer goods and oil. Prolonged electricity blackouts made daily life miserable in what the government called the "special period".

"I remember those days. No lights, no transportation, no food. Nothing of nothing. It drove you crazy and it can't happen again," said Havana handyman Domingo Garcia.

Recalled Marlen Perez, an operator at the state telephone monopoly: "I had to ride a bicycle to work and I'm too old for that now."

The gravity of Chavez's condition became clear when, before returning to Cuba to be operated on last week, he named his vice president and foreign minister, Nicolas Maduro, as his preferred successor if he cannot continue in office.

Between bouts of cancer, Chavez won a new, six-year term in October, but if he has to step down in the first four years of his new mandate, a new election must be held within 30 days.   Continued...

 
A priest holds a mass to pray for Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez in the Jesus de Miramar church in Havana, December 13, 2012. REUTERS/Desmond Boylan