Venezuela's Hugo Chavez faces new cancer battle, surgery in Cuba

By Ian James

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Dec. 9 2012 4:52 p.m. MST

He agreed with other doctors queried by the AP that Chavez could have a sarcoma, which he said tend to spread to the lungs. Based on Chavez's treatment regimen, he said, it's highly unlikely he's suffering from colon or prostate cancer, though it could also be bladder cancer.

Molina said it is extremely difficult to say how long Chavez has to live. "You need to know more specifics about the case," he said.

Chavez said he wouldn't have run for re-election this year if tests at the time had shown signs of cancer. He also made his most specific comments yet about his movement carrying on without him if necessary.

"Fortunately, this revolution doesn't depend on one man," Chavez said. "Today we have a collective leadership."

Throughout his presidency, though, Chavez has been a one-man political phenomenon, and until the appointment of Maduro he hadn't spoke of any clear successor.

"Chavez is in the short term irreplaceable in terms of leadership and of national impact," said Luis Vicente Leon, a pollster who heads the Venezuelan firm Datanalisis.

Still, he said, Chavez's announcement could help his party's candidates rally support in upcoming state gubernatorial elections on Dec. 16. Leon also said that if Chavez's candidates have a strong showing, it could give his party an added boost to promote constitutional changes to allow Maduro to succeed Chavez without the need for a new election. Such a possibility has not been publicly raised by Chavez's political allies.

Opposition leader Henrique Capriles, who was defeated by Chavez in the presidential vote, wished the president a speedy recovery.

He also bristled at the idea of Maduro being a designated political heir, saying: "When a person leaves his position the public has the last word, because we're in Venezuela and not Cuba."

"Here you can't talk about successors," Capriles told reporters.

Capriles is now running for re-election as governor of Miranda state, and he sidestepped a reporter's question about whether he would consider another presidential bid if new elections are held. "We aren't going around settling accounts," he said. "This is a difficult moment for the government."

Associated Press writers Fabiola Sanchez and Christopher Toothaker in Caracas and Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report. Ian James on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ianjamesap

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