Venezuela VP Maduro Arrives in Havana to Visit Ailing Chavez

Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro arrived in Havana yesterday to receive instructions from cancer-stricken President Hugo Chavez on a regional summit taking place this week.

Maduro and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez were greeted at the airport in the Cuban capital by Venezuelan Foreign Minister Elias Jaua, Venezuelan Attorney General Cilia Flores and Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodriguez, the Telesur network reported on its website.

The vice president last visited Chavez on the communist island a week ago and will head to Chile later this week for the Community of Latin American and Caribbean States summit.

“President Chavez is closing a post-operative cycle,” Maduro said in an interview broadcast last night on Russian state network RT before he flew to Cuba. “He’s climbing back up the crest of the hill, battling and has lived the best days after the operation.”

Maduro spoke at a political rally yesterday in Caracas to commemorate the 1958 downfall of dictator Marcos Perez Jimenez. Thousands of supporters dressed in the red shirts of Chavez’s “21st century revolution” gathered in western Caracas in a show of allegiance to their 58-year-old leader, who hasn’t been seen or heard from since stepping off a plane last month in Cuba to undergo his fourth cancer-related operation.

Chavez’s fragile health prevented him from attending his own swearing-in ceremony for a new term Jan. 10 after the Dec. 11 operation caused a lung infection and hemorrhaging.

Health Battle

Bolivian President Evo Morales said Jan. 22 Chavez is doing physiotherapy in order to return to Venezuela. No date has yet been set for him to land in Caracas as he continues to face a “tough, complex health battle,” Information Minister Ernesto Villegas said Jan. 22.

“We’re always optimistic” about Chavez coming back to Venezuela, Maduro said yesterday in the interview on the RT network, without providing a timeline for the leader’s return.

Before traveling to Cuba, Chavez anointed Maduro as his successor, urging Venezuelans to vote for the 50-year-old former bus driver and labor union leader should he die or step down because of his health.

Maduro, who has been running affairs in Chavez’s absence, said at the rally the Venezuelan opposition is trying to sew discord between him and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.

He said authorities uncovered a plot to assassinate him and Cabello and warned the government will come down with a “hard hand on anyone who violates the constitution and the country’s peace.”

Should Chavez die or step down before completing a third six-year term, the constitution states elections must be held within 30 days.

Opposition Parties

Opposition parties are ready for elections and will choose a presidential candidate by consensus, Ramon Guillermo Aveledo, the head of the opposition alliance known as the Democratic Unity Table, said at a smaller rally in eastern Caracas.

The recent news regarding Chavez’s health has raised hopes among his supporters that Chavez may be able to retake the helm of the country he’s ruled for 14 years. Pedro Castro, a 36-year- old computer technician said he attended the pro-Chavez rally to show support for Chavez and his government.

Chavez’s health “is in good hands,” Castro said. “He’s coming back reloaded. Chavez will be around for a while.”

Maria Leal, a seamstress wearing a red t-shirt and red cap at the rally, said that in Chavez’s absence Maduro could take power.

“There’s no one like Chavez, but in his absence, why not?” she said.

To contact the reporters on this story: Charlie Devereux in Caracas at cdevereux3@bloomberg.net; Corina Pons in Caracas at crpons@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Andre Soliani at asoliani@bloomberg.net

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