Venezuela's Chavez "improves slightly" after surgery: official

Mon Dec 24, 2012 5:20pm EST
 
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By Brian Ellsworth and Diego Ore

CARACAS (Reuters) - Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's condition has "improved slightly" after a cancer operation in Cuba, the information minister said on Monday, amid doubts over whether the former soldier is in good enough health to continue governing.

"The patient has shown a slight improvement in his condition," Venezuelan Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said during a terse televised statement, adding the president has maintained contact with family members.

Chavez has not been heard from in two weeks following a fourth operation for an unspecified type of cancer in the pelvic region. The government has said he suffered post-operatory complications including unexpected bleeding and a lung infection, but offered few details about his actual condition.

His death, or even his resignation for health reasons, would upend the politics of the South American OPEC nation where his personalized brand of oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor but a pariah to critics who call him a dictator.

His allies are now openly discussing the possibility that he may not be back in time to be sworn in for his third six-year term on the constitutionally mandated date of January 10.

Opposition leaders say a delay to his taking power would be another signal that Chavez is not in condition to govern and that fresh elections should be called to choose his replacement.

They believe they have a better shot against Chavez's anointed successor, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, than against the charismatic president who for 14 years has been nearly invincible at the ballot box.

But a constitutional dispute over succession could lead to a messy transition toward a post-Chavez era.   Continued...

 
A supporter of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez holds a picture of him, as she attends a mass to pray for Chavez's health in Caracas December 24, 2012. REUTERS/Carlos Garcia Rawlins