Venezuelans Keep Faith in Chavez Recovery After 10-Week Absence

A majority of Venezuelans believe President Hugo Chavez, who hasn’t appeared in public for more than two months since undergoing his fourth cancer operation in Cuba, will recover from his illness.

About 57 percent of the self-declared socialist’s compatriots think that while he isn’t cured of cancer, he will eventually defeat the disease, said Luis Vicente Leon, president of polling company Datanalisis. About 27 percent think he won’t get better while 2.8 percent think he could be dead already and 1 percent think he was never ill in the first place, Leon said today in Caracas.

Chavez, who won a third re-election in October after telling Venezuelans he was “totally free” of cancer, returned to Caracas Feb. 18 after more than two months of treatment in Cuba and was immediately transferred to a military hospital. Given that Venezuelans expect him to recuperate, should Chavez die the shock will be more pronounced and could generate problems for the government currently run by Vice President Nicolas Maduro, Leon said.

“We’re talking about nearly 60 percent of the population that has concrete expectations that President Chavez will return, which generates instability for Maduro’s government when it’s revealed,” Leon said. “The current perception of stability is something that could be false.”

Apart from photos released this month and Twitter messages posted to Chavez’s account upon arrival, the 58-year-old leader hasn’t been seen in public since traveling to Havana in December for his fourth cancer surgery in 18 months. No images of Chavez’s return to Caracas were broadcast and the government said he isn’t able to speak after doctors performed a tracheotomy to aid breathing, fueling speculation among investors that he won’t be able to finish his term in office.

Under Venezuela’s constitution, if Chavez dies or steps down an election must be held within 30 days. While announcing Dec. 8 that he required further surgery to treat his cancer, Chavez anointed Maduro as his successor and called on Venezuelans to vote for the former bus driver and union leader in the event that he didn’t survive the operation.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.