Venezuela's Chavez Headed For More Cancer Surgery

Battling cancer, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has for the first time named a successor — his vice president. The charismatic, socialist leader with aspirations of regional leadership is in Cuba undergoing a fourth round of surgery. Vice President Nicholas Maduro is a former bus driver who rose through the ranks of his union to national prominence. In an emotional speech, Chavez appealed to his countrymen to elect Maduro to the highest office when Chavez can no longer govern. Audie Cornish talks to Juan Forero.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish. In Venezuela, President Hugo Chavez has anointed a successor. The populous leader is heading for more cancer surgery and he told his countrymen that should his health force him from office, they should support Nicholas Maduro. He was recently appointed vice president. Maduro was also foreign minister, president of the national assembly and many years ago, a bus driver. NPR's South America correspondent Juan Forero joins us now.

And Juan, what more can you tell us about Nicolas Maduro?

JUAN FORERO, BYLINE: Well, Maduro is one of the most visible figures in Chavez's government. The president over his 14 years in power has frequently shuffled his cabinet, but Maduro has been a mainstay there and for the last six years, he's been the foreign minister. He's also been seen more and more at Chavez's side. He's in Cuba when Chavez is there undergoing treatments for his cancer and in Venezuela, he's there making speeches, inaugurating projects, things of that nature.

CORNISH: And Chavez in Venezuela is very much seen as a charismatic leader, very popular with the poor. What about Maduro?

FORERO: Well, no leader in the world has the kind of charisma Chavez has. He's used it to build a sort of cult-like following there. But Maduro is dynamic and he's got the background. He drove a bus in Caracas. He was a union organizer. He's been to Cuba many times and he's well liked by Fidel and Raul Castro. In Venezuela, that makes him a revolutionary as the president has called him and that helps marshal up supporters.

CORNISH: So if Chavez has to step down, walk us through the possible scenarios.

FORERO: Well, it all depends if Chavez has to leave office before January 10 or after that date. That's because Chavez recently won reelection and January 10 is the inauguration date. If he leaves office before then, the president of the Congress takes over and a new election is called in 30 days. But if Chavez leaves after the inauguration date, which seems to be the more likely scenario, there's still a new election called, but it's the vice president, that is Maduro, who'd be in charge.

CORNISH: So then, who would the two candidates be in that election?

FORERO: Well, if Chavez has his way, it's Maduro. On the opposition side, it's likely to be a guy named Henrique Capriles. He's a 40-year-old lawyer and he ran against Chavez in October and lost. But he's got a following and in polls, he stacked up pretty well against Maduro and other people close to Chavez.

CORNISH: Juan, listening to this, I mean, it doesn't seem like a recipe for a seamless transition.

FORERO: That's a big question that a lot of people are asking themselves because there are rivalries inside of Chavez's movement. He's the glue that's held everything together. But with him out, some analysts are wondering if there wouldn't be infighting as all these different groups and all these different players grope for power. Chavez wanted to make sure that didn't happen. That's why he made clear, clear as a full moon, as he put it, that his man was Maduro.

CORNISH: That's NPR's South America correspondent Juan Forero. Juan, thank you.

FORERO: Thank you.

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