Chavez health problems plunge Venezuela's future into doubt
(CNN) -- Uncertainty rules in Venezuela, where President Hugo Chavez battles a cancer some believe has turned fatal.
As Chavez shuttles between Venezuela and Cuba, where he is receiving treatment for a type of cancer he has declined to identify, speculation grows whether he'll be in shape to campaign for the Oct. 7 presidential election. Or if he will even be alive by then.
With no clear successor in line because Chavez has not designated one, analysts see political and military leaders and others with an eye on power quietly maneuvering to take over, improve their lot or simply stay out of prison.
"People are obviously positioning themselves," said Peter Hakim, president emeritus of the Inter-American Dialogue policy institute. "Chavez is very well-placed to announce his successor. But he really doesn't want to name his successor because it would be an indication that not only is he a lame duck, but he's a goner."
"This is like a kaleidoscope," said Roger Noriega, an analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute and the U.S. ambassador to the Organization of American States from 2001-2003.
It's not a well-defined picture, but the outlines are beginning to form.
Two Chavez allies take top posts
The military -- the power base from which Chavez came into prominence 20 years ago -- saw two strong allies named to top government posts four months ago. Whether the military forced those moves on Chavez or he made the appointments of his own volition as a way to further his socialist political movement is unclear and a point of debate among analysts.
The fact remains, though, that Diosdado Cabello, a longtime Chavez cohort who was part of a failed coup attempt by then-army colonel Chavez in February 1992, amassed tremendous power in January when Chavez named him president of the National Assembly.
Chavez had already appointed Cabello a month earlier to the No. 2 spot in another significant power base -- the president's political organization, the United Socialist Party of Venezuela, commonly known as PSUV, its Spanish acronym.
The second major appointment also occurred in January, when Chavez named Gen. Henry Rangel Silva as minister of defense, the top military post in the nation. Rangel Silva's appointment drew particular attention because the U.S. Treasury Department designated him as a drug kingpin in 2008. U.S. officials say Rangel Silva and other Venezuelan officials helped the guerrilla organization known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia ship cocaine through Venezuela.
Although Chavez and Rangel Silva deny the accusations, the military leader is among a group of Venezuelan commanders often referred to as "the narcogenerals." Other military leaders identified as narcogenerals by the Treasury Department include Army Gen. Cliver Alcala, who is commander of Venezuela's Fourth Armored Division, and Maj. Gen. Hugo Carvajal, whom Chavez removed as intelligence chief in December.
In addition, former Venezuelan Supreme Court Justice Eladio Aponte Aponte, who defected to the United States in April and is reported to be collaborating with the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration, named in a recent TV interview two other former generals he said are drug kingpins. He named Nestor Reverol, director of the National Antidrug Office, and Raul Isais Baduel, a former minister of defense who publicly broke with Chavez in 2007 and is now in prison on corruption charges.
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