Venezuela’s president recovering process has gone from stable to favorable, according to the latest medical report from Havana, Cuba, delivered Thursday night.
President Hugo Chávez underwent a six-hour cancer surgery Tuesday, the fourth in 18 months, during which he suffered bleeding that required the use of "corrective measures" and kept the entire nation on edge for 24 hours
The new announcement was made by vice president and appointed successor Nicolás Maduro during a rally held in Aragua, ahead of the regional elections to be held Sunday nationwide. After reading from a medical report, the crowd erupted in jubilation, with thousands of them chanting "He shall live, he will live, the Commander will live."
"We're fighting this battle with him, each one of us with a candle on the altar of his soul. Let everyone of us light a candle tonight and tomorrow and in the course of the following days to give light to our commander, and channel through it all our love and our requests that God intercedes, so the commander’s recovery can be completed,” Maduro said gloomily.
He spoke too Chávez's impact on the lives of Venezuelans throughout their mandates. "Chavez has made us all a little better, each of us today is much better than five years ago, 10 years ago, and our country is infinitely better than it was 15, 20, 50, 100 years," he said.
Meanwhile, even though Chavez's most influential allies are projecting an image of unity, some Venezuelans believe power struggles are brewing between ambitious lieutenants long in the president's shadow.
One-man rule has been the glue holding together Chavez's movement, and he hadn't groomed any clear successor until he surprised Venezuelans with the announcement last weekend that if cancer forced him from office he wanted his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, to take over.
The president's diverse "Chavismo" movement includes groups from radical leftists to moderates, and long-hidden divisions could flare, at least behind-the-scenes, if Chavez is no longer in charge.
"In politics, everything is possible," said Gustavo Chourio, a bookseller in downtown Caracas, adding that he expects conflict between Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello.
Maduro leads a civilian-political wing that is considered to be closely aligned with Cuba's communist government. Cabello, a former military officer who is more moderate, is thought to have strong ties to the military — a relationship he highlighted when he spoke at a Mass for Chavez held at Venezuela's largest military base.
"Maduro doesn't have influence with those in the military. Diosdado has the influence," Chourio said.
Throughout the nearly 14 years Chavez has been president, his allies have always deferred to and parroted him.
Chourio said he believes Chavismo has grown so strong it will persist without Chavez. But he predicts Maduro and Cabello will have a reckoning and may end up cutting deals.
"Those two will have to work it out to guarantee the country's stability," said Chourio, a longtime Chavez supporter.
Analysts agree that political battles are likely, if not inevitable.
"It is almost certain that an intense power struggle is already under way within Chavismo," said Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue think tank in Washington.
Shifter said key figures in the president's camp, including Maduro and Cabello, have long had to suppress personal ambition as Chavez monopolized decision-making.
"With Chavez no longer on the scene, and the power vacuum exposed, the situation becomes extremely unpredictable," Shifter said. "The fact that Maduro is Chavez's designated successor gives him the upper hand for the time being, but that is unlikely to last long. The others vying for power are wily and ruthless. From the outset, the Chavez regime has been about power — including lots of money — and now all of that is up for grabs."
Maduro and Cabello, for their part, showed a united front this week by appearing together at events along with other Cabinet ministers and military commanders. Speaking alongside Cabello and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez on Wednesday, Maduro said: "We're more united than ever."
If Chavez were to die or be unable to continue in office, the constitution says new elections should be held within 30 days. If that happened before Chavez's Jan. 10 swearing-in, the president of the National Assembly would take over temporarily until elections were held.
**With reporting by The Associated Press.