Chavez’s army ally rises to fore in Venezuela

CARACAS,  (Reuters) – A military comrade of Hugo Chavez who was once Venezuela’s president for a day has become his most powerful ally at a delicate time when the socialist leader is seeking re-election despite cancer. The rise of Diosdado Cabello, 48, has coincided with Chavez’s latest convalescence from surgery and has set tongues wagging that he could be the chosen one as successor should the president’s health deteriorate. To the envy of other senior “Chavistas”, the burly army lieutenant who is second only to Chavez in the ruling Socialist Party was also named early this year as the head of parliament.

During Chavez’s recent three-week absence in Cuba for the removal of a second malignant tumor, Cabello fronted government news conferences and led rallies. Then he stood proudly next to the president on the palace balcony at a weekend homecoming. “He has taken on a protagonistic role. That was the president’s intention,” said one former minister and government ally, asking not to be named due to the delicate subject.

Just how protagonistic remains to be seen: Chavez frequently shuffles his top aides and eschews all talk of succession.

Yet Cabello’s rise has clearly eclipsed two other heavyweights – Vice President Elias Jaua and Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro – whom Venezuelans had last year been speculating were equally strong-looking contenders to replace Chavez. Both are being sent to the provinces later this year to campaign for Chavez in the Oct. 7 presidential vote and then contend state governorships. Analysts interpret that as a snub to any presidential ambitions they may have privately harbored.

“Elias carries out the day-to-day business, while Diosdado is the mover of the masses,” the ex-minister added, describing Chavez’s roles for them.

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