According to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, President Hugo Chavez is "gaining strength" following complications after cancer surgery in Cuba. He is “is going to enter a new phase of treatment that is in the process of evaluation”
President Chavez reportedly underwent an operation for an undisclosed form of cancer on December 11 in Cuba. This is the third time the malignant cancer has sent him to the operating table since 2011.
However, it has been well over a month since any public appearances or statements have been made by the Venezuelan president, raising many questions about his actual state of health as well as the nation’s future.
Keith Rosenn, a law professor at the University of Miami with a specialization in Latin American legal affairs, said, “It’s possible Chavez could be dead for a substantial period of time before we know he’s dead and why he died … He’s in Cuba after all.”
The Venezuelan leader has been known to share a special friendship with the Castro brothers, even shaping his socialist revolution after the Cuban system.
However, if Chavez is dead, his socialist regime — or, Chavismo — could continue its reign, Susan Kaufman Purcell, director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami told NBC News. His legacy could live on, she says, “If the Chavistas who remain, remain united and are committed to his missions.”
But she also warns that the support for Chavez, which comes mostly from the lower-class, could find itself faltering considering that those among the poor were also the people who had been “lied to” the most in the past regarding the president’s health.
“People were not prepared for this because Chavez suggested he was cured of cancer when he wasn’t,” she said.
Aimee Arias, chair of political science at Florida Atlantic University told NBC News that she doubts that the Chavismo movement will last much longer is Chavez is indeed dead. “The movement is named after him, after all,” she said.
At the moment, Vice President Nicolas Maduro, is currently in charge and many believe he will be named the official successor soon.
Since Chavez’s announcement that his cancer had returned, Maduro has increasingly been seen in the international spotlight. According to NBC senior correspondent and Latin American specialist, Mary Murray, the Chavistas have also prepared to lock-in their support behind the Vice President.
“His supporters are closing ranks,” Murray said. “They’ve said ‘we’re going to keep power no matter what.’”
Maduro, a party loyalist, has slowly rose through the ranks, initially starting out as a bus driver for the Caracas Metro. From there, he became a union organizer, a member of the national assembly and eventually was appointed foreign minister.
There is still the possibility that Chavez may recover from his surgery and return to office. But if Maduro does find the transfer of power in his favor, along with inheriting the largest oil reserves, he would find himself leading a nation plagued by a list of tenuous issues including high inflation, an 8.2% unemployment rate and rising crime rates.