Hugo Chavez's absence from Venezuela following surgery for cancer threatens to create a "political crisis of unprecedented levels", experts on Latin America have warned.
Speaking in a televised address last night, Mr Chavez (56) admitted that he had undergone surgery in Cuba to remove a tumour containing "cancerous cells". Rumours about his condition grew after his failure to leave Havana following an earlier operation to remove a pelvic abscess.
A presidential election is due by the end of 2012 and analysts fear questions over Mr Chavez's ability to govern could provoke instability in the country he has led since 1999. His brother Adnan Chavez, a provincial governor, stoked such fears when he said that a return to "armed struggle" should not be ruled out by supporters of the regime's "Bolivarian revolution".
"A prolonged absence by Chavez could encourage a likely political crisis of unprecedented levels," said Diego Moya-Ocampos, an analyst at IHS Global Insight.
Professor Mark Jones, an expert on Latin America at Rice University in Texas, agreed that Mr Chavez's absence threatened "a potentially volatile situation". (© Daily Telegraph, London)