Caracas: Venezuela’s main opposition movement called on the government Wednesday to 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 Chavez, longtime leader of OPEC member Venezuela, which sits atop the world’s largest proven oil reserves.
More than three weeks after undergoing his fourth round of cancer surgery in Havana, the government faced mounting pressures to lay out Chavez’s health in detail and put in place an orderly succession process 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 duties as president as he underwent 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 demanded that the government provide a “a diagnosis and a medical prognosis” on the 58-year-old’s condition.
The government has provided 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 2010.
Information about his progress has come in vague, often upbeat comments by Maduro and a handful of other aides and close allies like Bolivia’s president.
Morales told reporters in Bolivia 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 president 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.”
Vice President Nicolas Maduro said in a television interview from Havana 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.”
But Maduro provided few specifics about the president’s health even as he accused the Venezuelan right of deliberately spreading what he said were sick lies and rumors about Chavez’s condition.
A cascade of rumors have swept social networks and Internet 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 rumors and the interpretations that people make,” said Aveledo.
Maduro, who said he had spoken twice with Chavez during a three-day visit to Havana, was returning to Caracas Wednesday to face the brewing 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.
Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez had named Maduro as his choice to succeed him but after having dominated national life here for 14 years his departure from the scene was expected to leave an unsettling power vacuum.
The Venezuelan constitution calls for new elections within 30 days if the president-elect is unable to take the oath of office.
It was also unclear whether Maduro, who was appointed vice president by Chavez after his reelection October 7, could 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.
The head of the national assembly is currently Diosdado Cabello, the leader of a Chavista faction who is said to be a potential political rival of Maduro.
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.