Hugo Chávez’s creation of a Council of State this week has triggered speculation that it is intended as a transitional body in the event that the Venezuelan president’s cancer forces him to relinquish power.
Nicolás Maduro, foreign minister, did not deny on Wednesday that the council – which is led by the vice-president and consists of a former minister, two diplomats, an admiral and a prominent intellectual – had a transitional role. But he said its main purpose was to “improve government efficiency”.
While opponents saw this as a worrying precedent, the former soldier has long criticised the commission, particularly for recognising the legitimacy of the de facto government that briefly overthrew him in a coup in 2002. He described it on Monday as a “sword of Damocles”.
On April 13, Mr Chávez also created what he called an “anti-coup command”, a group whose membership remains secret and whose purpose is to resist any putative takeover.
Although the legal adviser for the opposition coalition, Jesús María Casal, expressed doubt that the council was meant to be a transitional body, Nelson Bocaranda, a prominent opposition journalist, wrote in his Thursday column that the council was designed to prevent a “traumatic” end to Mr Chávez’s rule.
“The president knows that he cannot leave the country in the hands of questioned officials who have attracted the world’s attention to recent cases of drug trafficking, corruption and the violation of human rights,” wrote Mr Bocaranda, adding that it was a “virtual certainty” that Mr Chávez would not stand for re-election in October.
Led by the vice-president, Elias Jaua, the council’s members are José Vicente Rangel, a previous vice-president and a prominent journalist; Admiral Carlos Rafael Giacopini; Luis Britto García, a writer and intellectual; Roy Chaderton, Venezuela’s ambassador at the Organisation of American States; and Germán Mundaraín, Venezuela’s envoy to the UN’s human rights council.
“More than a body to lead a transition, its purpose is to enable Chávez to make the right decisions to guarantee his continuity in power until he decides whether to run for election or to appoint a successor,” said Diego Moya-Ocampos, a Latin America analyst at IHS Global Insight.
“Increasingly, Chávez is challenged to face and prepare an eventual complicated scenario of succession, in which his appointed successor would be able to keep together the different conflicting factions within his ruling United Socialist Party of Venezuela and the armed forces, and also be capable of defeating the opposition candidate.”
After a recurrence of his cancer, first diagnosed in June 2011, Mr Chávez returned to Cuba to have a lesion removed on February 26. Since then he has spent more time in Havana than in Caracas. He has never divulged the type of cancer he has.