Chavez foes say his absence a security risk

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – Venezuela’s opposition said today President Hugo Chavez’s prolonged convalescence from  cancer in Cuba put the country’s security and sovereignty at  risk and it stepped up calls for him to delegate his powers.
“It’s clear Chavez does not have the capacity to fully  exercise his power … . This is a very dangerous, nefarious  precedent,” Roberto Enriquez, national president of the COPEI  Christian Democrat opposition party, told reporters.
The 56-year-old’s cancer, which the charismatic socialist  leader revealed on Thursday in a televised speech from Havana,  has convulsed politics in South America’s biggest oil exporter  ahead of a presidential election next year.
“The security of the state cannot be handled from outside  the national territory … . Affairs of state are being  discussed in foreign government installations,” COPEI’s  Enriquez said, adding that the situation put the country’s  security and sovereignty at risk.
Vice President Elias Jaua and Venezuela’s military chiefs  have rejected calls for any temporary delegation of Chavez’s  powers. They argue the National Assembly dominated by the  president’s supporters has already constitutionally approved  his absence.
Chavez’s illness has underlined the lack of an obvious  successor to the populist Venezuelan leader whose personalized  style of government has dominated the OPEC country since 1999.
Chavez’s armed forces, purged over the years of critics and  opponents, have been a bulwark of support to his left-leaning  “Bolivarian Revolution” and Defense Minister Carlos Mata  Figueroa repeated a pledge of loyalty today.
“The soldiers of the homeland who are the blood, sap and  soul of the people express our deepest loyalty to the Commander  in Chief and revolutionary government,” Mata said at a military  ceremony that should have been attended by Chavez.
Neither Chavez nor his government has announced a firm date  for his return, fueling conjecture about what kind of cancer he  has and how long it could take him to recover. Media reports  have speculated he has either colon or prostate cancer.
Analysts say any diminishing of Chavez’s visibility or  volubility could reduce his ability to rally support for the  2012 election.
“The revolution and the new socialism are words that  without President Chavez have little meaning for a broad number  of people, with many periphery supporters likely to shift  towards the opposition,” global banking group RBS said in a  research note.
With polls showing the popularity of Chavez’s government  being eroded by economic woes, high crime rates and problems  like chronic power outages, next year’s vote is likely to be  crucial for Chavez in his long career marked by a string of  ballot victories and the projection of his leftist policies  around the world.
“We have absolute faith and confidence in God … that Hugo  Chavez will be the candidate of the Bolivarian Revolution, of  the people and patriots of Venezuela, and that he will carry on  being president beyond 2012,” Jaua said on Friday.

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