Venezuelan Opposition Sees an Opportunity in Chavez’s Worsening Health

With Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s announcement that his cancer has returned, opposition leaders have seen the news as an opportunity for new presidential elections if Chavez cannot continue as president.


Punto Fijo, December 10th, 2012 ( – With Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s announcement that his cancer has returned, opposition leaders have seen the news as an opportunity for new presidential elections if Chavez cannot continue as president.

Pro-Chavez leaders, however, accused opposition leaders of manipulating the situation.

“Yesterday the President of the Republic mentioned the possibility of his permanent absence,” said opposition leader Maria Corina Machado before the National Assembly on Sunday.

“In this case, the constitution is clear and unequivocal, elections must be called in the next 30 days,” she said.

Opposition parliamentarian Hiram Gaviria echoed this, arguing that President Chavez’s trip to Cuba to receive cancer treatment should be considered a “temporary absence” of the presidency, in which case the vice-president must assume the presidency.

“Nicolas Maduro must assume the presidency of the republic,” he said. “Caracas is the capital of Venezuela, not Havana.”

Various opposition leaders also criticized Chavez’s decision to leave Vice-president Nicolas Maduro in charge during his absence.

“There is no succession in this country. This isn’t Cuba, nor is it a monarchy where whoever is designated by the king takes the throne,” said Miranda governor Henrique Capriles.

According to the Venezuelan constitution, in the event of a “temporary absence” (Article 234) the president is to be substituted by the vice-president for up to 90 days, but in the event of an “absolute absence” (Article 233) new elections must be called within 30 days.

However, Chavez has only requested authorization from the National Assembly to leave the country for longer than 5 days, which is established in article 235 of the constitution.

“The debate is not about a temporary absence or an absolute absence. That isn’t what we are discussing here, and those who are using that [argument] are really just revealing their desire to get rid of the President,” said president of the National Assembly Diosdado Cabello.

Opposition leaders also spoke of a post-Chavez scenario and the opportunities for the opposition.

“This situation hasn’t caught us off guard, because we are united and capable of presenting a timely alternative,” said executive secretary of the opposition coalition Roundtable of Democratic Unity (MUD) Ramon Guillermo Aveledo.

“There is no reason to lose our calm. We have the constitution, this is a republic, but there is also an alternative; one that is organized, serious, and prepared to assume its responsibilities,” he said, referring to the opposition parties united in the MUD coalition.

Meanwhile, opposition pundit Rafael Poleo proclaimed that “the revolution is over,” in a column in the Venezuelan daily El Nuevo País, while pro-opposition journalist Teodoro Petkoff assured that “the possibility that Chavismo could lose electorally is very possible.”

Pro-Chavez officials were critical of the stance taken by opposition leaders, accusing them of looking for an excuse to get rid of Chavez, and hoping for his death.

“They want to turn things around and become the authorities, and immediately say that this is a temporary absence because inside they are hoping that everything goes badly in Havana and in Venezuela,” said United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) representative Andrés Eloy Méndez.

PSUV spokesperson Freddy Bernal said opposition leaders were “like a bunch of hyenas, ready to pounce on the country at the right moment,” whereas PSUV representative Isabel Lameda compared them to vultures.

“I hear these representatives, all of them businessmen, and it is their snobbery that is talking. They want to turn themselves into the Supreme Court. They talk about article 234 (temporary absence) and they dream about article 233 (absolute absence), when the one that applies here is article 235 (absence for more than 5 days),” said Lameda.

“Life is giving them a chance to be decent, to fly with the eagles, but no. He who is a vulture is always a vulture, even if dressed in white,” she said.

The National Assembly voted unanimously on Sunday to approve Chavez’s request to travel to Cuba for additional cancer treatment, though opposition representatives stressed that it should be declared a “temporary absence”. The Venezuelan president will undergo his fourth surgery to remove cancerous tissue from the pelvic region.

Messages of Support

Meanwhile, President Chavez has received a huge show of support from among the Venezuelan people, who congregated in central squares across the country yesterday to wish their president well in his treatment.

“The whole people are with you Chavez. You are and will be our leader. You are an example of struggle, and of victory…we wish you good health and we’ll wait for you here again to continue building the country,” said Sonia Alvarado of the Women with Chavez Front from a massive gathering in central Caracas.

The 23 gubernatorial candidates for Chavez’s PSUV party also affirmed their loyalty to the president, signing a document pledging their solidarity with their leader.

Messages of support also flooded in across social networking sites, with the phrase “the world is with Chavez” one of the highest global trending topics today.

Latin American and other world leaders sent messages solidarity to Chavez. The first came from Bolivian president Evo Morales, who said “we invoke all forces, all the energy of the world, to wish a lot of strength and luck to President Chavez for the good of the Great Country [of Latin America and the Caribbean].”

Written by Chris Carlson with additional reporting from Ewan Robertson.