Venezuelans told to stay calm after Chavez's cancer treatment

Venezuela was on the brink of political chaos last night after President Hugo Chavez admitted in a televised address that he has cancer.

Looking slim and subdued, Mr Chavez, who has been treated in Cuba for the past three weeks, made the announcement after his recent uncharacteristically low profile prompted fevered speculation about the presidential succession.

The speech, concise by Mr Chavez's standards at just 14 minutes, ended on an unusual note. Instead of signing off with his trademark "Socialist homeland or death", the President concluded: "We will live and conquer for now and forever."

Mr Chavez originally travelled to Cuba for treatment on an abscess on his pelvis. During the procedure, the President said, cancerous cells were found and he then underwent a second operation to have them removed. He will remain indefinitely in Cuba for treatment.

The news rocked Venezuela, where Mr Chavez has ruled for 13 years and towers over the political landscape. During that time, he has survived a coup, redrawn the constitution, frequently legislated by decree, and marginalised many of his opponents, both from the right and left. His dominance is so great that there is no obvious successor within his United Socialist Party of Venezuela.

Mr Chavez's supporters quickly moved to head off suggestions of a power vacuum. The head of the armed forces, Henry Rangel Silva, said: "He is recovering satisfactorily. We see our commander with a few kilos less but on his feet. The reality is that he is recovering. He is fine."

Vice President Elias Jaua appeared on TV with the entire cabinet to plead for calm. "We call on all the public authorities to unite in order to continue advancing the consolidation of the state." Mr Jaua also urged Chavez sympathisers to take to the streets to show their support, a call which was immediately heeded by hundreds in Caracas chanting "My commander" and wishing the President a speedy recovery. But not everyone was convinced, particularly in Venezuela's business community, which is highly hostile to the President.

Venezuela's economy is in serious trouble. Critics accuse the President of mismanaging Venezuela's oil wealth, wasting billions of petrodollars on grandiose projects. And inflation is about 30 per cent after the government was forced to devalue the currency by 50 per cent this year.

Although Mr Chavez remains wildly popular among poor Venezuelans, he appears electorally vulnerable for the first time. His approval ratings now hover in the low 40s, almost 10 points behind Henrique Capriles, the youthful governor of the province of Miranda, and a likely challenger in next year's presidential elections.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Network Technician

£18000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run IT service busi...

Recruitment Genius: Network Manager

£32000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This family run IT service busi...

Recruitment Genius: Solar PV Designer

£25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An exciting opportunity to join...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive - OTE £26,000

£14000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Due to continued success, this ...

Day In a Page

A Very British Coup, part two: New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel

A Very British Coup, part two

New novel in pipeline as Jeremy Corbyn's rise inspires sequel
Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Philae lander data show comets could have brought 'building blocks of life' to Earth

Icy dust layer holds organic compounds similar to those found in living organisms
What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist? Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories

What turns someone into a conspiracy theorist?

Study to look at why some are more 'receptive' to such theories
Chinese web dissenters using coded language to dodge censorship filters and vent frustration at government

Are you a 50-center?

Decoding the Chinese web dissenters
The Beatles film Help, released 50 years ago, signalled the birth of the 'metrosexual' man

Help signalled birth of 'metrosexual' man

The Beatles' moptop haircuts and dandified fashion introduced a new style for the modern Englishman, says Martin King
Hollywood's new diet: Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?

Hollywood's new diet trends

Has LA stolen New York's crown as the ultimate foodie trend-setter?
6 best recipe files

6 best recipe files

Get organised like a Bake Off champion and put all your show-stopping recipes in one place
Ashes 2015: Steven Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Finn goes from being unselectable to simply unplayable

Middlesex bowler claims Ashes hat-trick of Clarke, Voges and Marsh
Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... for the fourth time

Mullah Omar, creator of the Taliban, is dead... again

I was once told that intelligence services declare their enemies dead to provoke them into popping up their heads and revealing their location, says Robert Fisk
Margaret Attwood on climate change: 'Time is running out for our fragile, Goldilocks planet'

Margaret Atwood on climate change

The author looks back on what she wrote about oil in 2009, and reflects on how the conversation has changed in a mere six years
New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered: What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week

New Dr Seuss manuscript discovered

What Pet Should I Get? goes on sale this week
Oculus Rift and the lonely cartoon hedgehog who could become the first ever virtual reality movie star

The cartoon hedgehog leading the way into a whole new reality

Virtual reality is the 'next chapter' of entertainment. Tim Walker gives it a try
Ants have unique ability to switch between individual and collective action, says study

Secrets of ants' teamwork revealed

The insects have an almost unique ability to switch between individual and collective action
Donovan interview: The singer is releasing a greatest hits album to mark his 50th year in folk

Donovan marks his 50th year in folk

The singer tells Nick Duerden about receiving death threats, why the world is 'mentally ill', and how he can write a song about anything, from ecology to crumpets
Let's Race simulator: Ultra-realistic technology recreates thrill of the Formula One circuit

Simulator recreates thrill of F1 circuit

Rory Buckeridge gets behind the wheel and explains how it works