CARACAS (Reuters) – Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez’s revelation he is being treated for cancer has cast doubt on the left-wing populist’s capacity to sustain his self-styled revolution and raised the possibility of a power struggle among his allies.
Chavez says he is still running the OPEC nation’s affairs while recovering in Cuba and state leaders insist he is still in charge.
But his illness could force him to hand over power to his vice president and may weaken his chances of winning a 2012 presidential election that was already looking to be a tight race.
Here are possible scenarios surrounding Chavez’s illness:
Chavez has advanced cancer – and possibly dies
* Chavez’s announcement has spurred speculation that he could be in the advanced stages of cancer that would require aggressive chemotherapy treatment and leave him incapacitated.
The leftist stalwart said on Thursday he had committed a “fundamental error” by not undergoing routine medical check-ups, suggesting the cancer had gone undetected for some time.
While cancer is often treatable if detected early, once it has “metastasized” or spread to other organs it requires harsh treatment and is much more likely to be deadly.
Media reports have said Chavez may have advanced cancer but he and his allies insist he is recovering.
* If Chavez were incapacitated or died, Vice President Elias Jaua would take over for the rest of the six-year period under Article 233 of the constitution. A presidential election is due by the end of 2012, with the winner to start a new mandate in January 2013.
* With no successor in line to replace the figure who has dominated Venezuelan politics for 12 years, Chavez’s alliance of military leaders and civilian activists would likely splinter, threatening to unleash chaos.
None of Chavez’s main allies — Jaua, senior ruling party official Diosdado Cabello, Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, his brother Adan Chavez, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez — are seen as having the political acumen or charisma to lead the governing Socialist Party.
* Chavez’s leaving office would have global repercussions. Venezuelan aid and energy supplies have become a key pillar of Cuba’s economy, and state-oil company PDVSA now provides low-cost oil and fuel to over a dozen Caribbean nations.
His absence from the world stage would deprive radical leftists around the world of a natural leader who has emerged as the most visceral and high-profile critic of the United States and global institutions such as the IMF and the World Bank.
* But even if Chavez died suddenly, an all-out civil war seems unlikely in Venezuela — a nation where back-room agreements and liberal distribution of oil money have for decades staved off major political violence.
Chavez recovers quickly
* In the most positive scenario for Chavez, he would recover quickly from his cancer and re-establish himself in Venezuela to begin campaigning for the 2012 elections.
* The return of a healthy Chavez, mocking detractors who had been speculating about his demise and basking in the applause of supporters delirious to see him back, could give him a timely boost in the polls.
The affair of his health also has taken attention away from domestic problems like electricity blackouts, crime, high prices, prison riots and shortages of some goods that have been stoking discontent among many voters.
* His illness could make him appear more human and sympathetic after more than a decade of super-human stamina and an aura of confident invincibility that allowed him to speak for stretches of more than eight hours and make non-stop public appearances.
An absence followed by a triumphant return to power would also allow him to test the loyalty of his inner circle and stem any possible challenges to his rule from within the party.
Chavez returns in a weakened state
* The scenario of Chavez remaining in power while battling cancer — possibly seeking to run affairs from Cuba — would create the greatest level of uncertainty.
* His intense micromanagement that makes him reluctant to delegate even basic tasks to cabinet ministers would likely make it difficult for him to continue his usual style of governance while convalescing or receiving cancer treatment.
* Prolonging his stay in Cuba could further exacerbate opposition outrage that he is compromising national security by running the government from another country. Opposition leaders, despite wishing him a full recovery, say he should delegate power to his vice president.
* Dragging out his eventual departure from office in a weakened state would string out the creation of new coalitions and the designation of a new leader to replace him, opening up the possibility of political instability.
* Internecine struggles could become particularly intense for control over state-run oil company PDVSA, which is the financial engine of the nation, providing more than 90 percent of Venezuela’s export revenues and directly bankrolling many of Chavez’s most popular social programmes.