Venezuelan opposition demands ‘truth’ on Chavez's health

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 10:08am
UPDATED : Thursday, 03 January, 2013, 3:37pm

Venezuela’s main opposition movement demanded on Wednesday that the government tell “the truth” about President Hugo Chavez’s health as one of his closest allies said his condition was “very worrying.”

“Let’s hope our prayers will be effective in saving the life of brother President Chavez,” Bolivian President Evo Morales said of the longtime leader of Opec member Venezuela, which has the world’s largest proven oil reserves.

In an update on Wednesday, Chavez’s son-in-law Jorge Arreaza, the country’s minister of science and technology, said in a tweet that the president’s condition was “stable”, but still delicate.

But more than three weeks after Chavez underwent a fourth round of cancer surgery in Havana, the leftist government faced mounting pressure to explain his health situation in detail and put in place an orderly succession process to be implemented should he die or be incapacitated.

The head of an opposition umbrella group, the MUD, accused the government of “outlandish irresponsibility” in trying to make it appear that Chavez was exercising his official duties as he undergoes a difficult recovery in Cuba.

“It is essential that the government act in a manner that gives confidence. It is essential that it tell the truth,” said Ramon Guillermo Aveledo.

He called on the government to provide “a diagnosis and a medical prognosis” on the 58-year-old Chavez’s condition.

The government has given only sketchy information about Chavez’s battle with cancer, withholding even the type of cancer and the prognosis since the disease was first detected by Cuban doctors in June last year.

Information about his progress has come in vague, often upbeat comments by Vice-President Nicolas Maduro and a handful of other aides and close allies like Bolivia’s president.

Morales told reporters in Bolivia on Wednesday that he had spoken with the Venezuelan leader’s family, and that “our brother President Chavez’s situation is very worrying.”

“It is very painful for me,” the Bolivian leader acknowledged.

In Brazil, an official at the Planalto presidential palace said Brasilia was following Chavez’s situation “with concern".

But the official, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said there was “no reason to be concerned, to believe, that something extraordinary could happen in the future with Venezuela.”

Maduro said in a television interview from Havana on Tuesday that Chavez was conscious and fully aware “of how complex the postoperative condition is.”

“At times there have been slight improvements, at times there have been stationary situations,” he said.

But Maduro provided few specifics even as he accused the Venezuelan right of deliberately spreading what he said were sick lies and rumours about Chavez’s condition.

Speculation has swept social networks and blogs, with some claiming Chavez was dead and others that he was on life support.

“It’s the lack of transparency on the part of the government, the secrecy, the lack of clarity that is to blame for the rumours and the interpretations that people make,” said Aveledo.

Calls for greater accountability to the public also went out on social networks.

“Venezuelans demand that YouTellTheTruthAboutChavez the country does not depend on 1 man but on the will [of] 26 million,” wrote Aurimar—Espina on Twitter.

Maduro, who said he had spoken twice with Chavez during a three-day visit to Havana, was supposed to return to Caracas on Wednesday to face the crisis.

At the top of his to-do list will be to sort out what happens if Chavez is unable to be sworn in to a new six-year term on January 10 following his re-election in October.

Former vice-president Elias Jaua said in a tweet on Wednesday that Chavez alone “will decide what to do January 10,” suggesting he had no plans for now to give up the presidency.

On the other hand, Assembly speaker Diosdado Cabello tweeted that “we Chavistas are very clear on what we will do.”

Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez had named Maduro as his choice to succeed him.

The Venezuelan constitution, however, calls for new elections within 30 days if the president-elect is unable to take the oath of office.

If new elections are held, opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who gave the Comandante a good run for his money in the October election, might prevail and seek to begin a new era.

It was also unclear whether Maduro, who was appointed vice president by Chavez after his re-election October 7, would remain in office after January 10.

“On January 10 a new constitutional term begins. If the president shows up, he shows up. If the president does not show up, the president of the National Assembly is in line to assume the presidency temporarily, according to the constitution,” said Aveledo.