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Some Venezuelans see ‘Chavismo’ struggles brewing

December 15, 2012

CARACAS, Venezuela - Hugo Chavez's most influential allies are projecting an image of unity while the president recovers from cancer surgery in Cuba, standing side-by-side and pledging to uphold his socialist movement no matter what happens.

But with Chavez's outlook darkened, 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.

Article Photos

People are seen reflected on an image of Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez during a mass in support of him in Havana, Cuba, Thursday. Chavez is recovering favorably despite suffering complications during cancer surgery in Cuba, his vice president Nicolas Maduro said Thursday amid uncertainty over the Venezuelan leader's health crisis and the country's political future.

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, 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.

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.



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