A VENEZUELAN government statement Thursday said that President Hugo Chavez, who has been secreted inside a Cuban hospital since undergoing surgery on Dec. 11, was facing “complications” from “a severe lung infection.” As has been the case throughout his nearly two-year bout with cancer, details of the strongman’s condition, treatment and prognosis are unavailable. But Venezuelans are bracing themselves for the death of the caudillo who has ruled them — and wrecked their once-prosperous country — over the past 13 years. The United States and its Latin American allies need to prepare, as well.
Mr. Chavez’s critical condition arrived at a critical moment: He is due to be sworn in next Thursday for another six-year term in office. Having won reelection in October after assuring Venezuelans that he was fully cured, the president disappeared soon afterward; in his last appearance before departing for Cuba, he appointed foreign minister Nicolas Maduro as his vice president and political successor. If Mr. Chavez is too ill to attend his inauguration, authorities are saying, they will simply delay it — a stretch of the constitution’s ambiguous wording. But when and if he dies, the constitution is clear: A new election for president should be held within 30 days.