With Hugo Chavez in Cuba for Chemotherapy, Who's Running Venezuela?

Article excerpt

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez has for the first time agreed to delegate some power to Vice President Elias Jaua while he is treated in Cuba, but analysts warn of a looming power struggle.

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez touched down last night at Havana's Jose Marti airport in another twist in the tale of his newly public battle with cancer.

The fiery socialist leader will today begin chemotherapy there for an unknown period of time, raising questions as to the future of his presidency especially as elections loom in 2012.

"We're going to give it everything we've got," Mr. Chavez said Saturday as he boarded his flight in Caracas. "It's not time to die. It's time to live."

The slow release of information about Chavez's illness has led to much speculation on his health and, therefore, his ability to govern. And as he toys with how much decision-making power to delegate while he is treated in Cuba, analysts warn of a looming power struggle within his inner circle.

"Chavez still resists transferring authority to his vice president, and it remains to be seen how many important decisions will be made by others," says Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington. "It would be a complete break from the caudillo-style [quasi-dictatorial, top- down] governance that has characterized the Chavez regime."

Power struggle ahead?

Mr. Shifter struggles to believe that an arrangement whereby Chavez shuttles back and forth between Cuba and Venezuela, maintaining his hold on power, will work smoothly.

"Either Chavez will refuse to give up real decision-making or, if he is incapacitated, his inner circle will engage in a fierce power struggle that could become quite chaotic," says Shifter.

During Chavez's recent three-week-long convalescence in Cuba - during which time he was finally forced admit to Venezuela and the world that he had been diagnosed with and treated for cancer - Venezuela's Vice President Elias Jaua appeared reluctant to take the helm, perhaps for fear of appearing to upstage his boss. …