Miami New Times: Is Hugo Chavez Setting Up a Military Junta In Case He Dies of Cancer? by Tim Elfrink
Hugo Chavez may have quelled rumors last week that he was near death by appearing on TV looking relatively robust, but some recent political moves have left many in Caracas wondering if he’s going to make it to the presidential elections — and even more alarmingly, what will happen to Venezuela if he doesn’t.
In recent months Chavez has appointed two top military figures to politically powerful posts. As he returns to Cuba this week for more treatment, some now ask if he’s laying the groundwork for a military junta to seize power if he dies.
“People are obviously positioning themselves,” Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue, tells CNN. “Chavez is very well-placed to announce his successor. But he really doesn’t want to name his successor because it would be an indication that not only is he a lame duck, but he’s a goner.”
The most likely military figure to grasp power in a Chavez vacuum looks to be Diosdado Cabello, a former Army ally who took party in Chavez’s failed 1992 coup attempt.
Since January, Chavez has named Cabello the head of the National Assembly and the No. 2 in Chavez’s own political party, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela.
Later the same month, Chavez named Gen. Rangel Silva minister of defense. (An appointment not exactly embraced in the U.S., considering that American officials have accused Silva of being a “drug kingpin” who help use Venezuelan military to ferry drugs through the country.)
Are these moves ordinary political shuffling by Chavez? Or is something more sinister afoot as the strongman’s cancer worsens?
“Everyone knows the president’s health is delicate, so his setting up the Council of State now cannot be good news,” John Magdaleno, a Caracas political scientists, tells Agence France Presse. “It might be used as a potential transitional body, or in case the president becomes incapacitated and cannot work, or to prepare some extraordinary measures.”
One thing Chavez’s illness hasn’t done: Give his opponent a big boost at the polls.
A new poll in Caracas shows Chavez still holds a double-digit lead over his challenger, Henrique Capriles, besting him 45-31.