CARACAS, Venezuela — President Hugo Chavez’s new complications after cancer surgery prompted his closest allies to call for Venezuelans to pray for him on Monday, presenting an increasingly bleak outlook and prompting growing speculation about whether the ailing leader has much longer to live.
Vice President Nicolas Maduro looked weary and spoke with a solemn expression as he announced in a televised address from Havana on Sunday that Mr. Chavez now confronts “new complications” from a respiratory infection nearly three weeks after his operation. He described Mr. Chavez’s condition as delicate.
The streets of Caracas were abuzz on Monday with talk of Mr. Chavez’s increasingly tough fight, while the news topped the front pages of the country’s newspapers.
“He’s history now,” said Cesar Amaro, a street vendor selling newspapers and snacks at a kiosk in downtown Caracas. He motioned to a newspaper showing side-by-side photos of Mr. Maduro and National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello, and said politics will now turn to them.
Mr. Amaro said he expects a new election soon to replace Mr. Chavez. “For an illness like the one the president has, his days are numbered now,” he said matter-of-factly.
A government-organized New Year’s Eve concert had been planned in a downtown Caracas plaza featuring popular Venezuelan bands, but was canceled because of Mr. Chavez’s condition. Information Minister Ernesto Villegas on Sunday night urged Venezuelans to keep their president in their prayers.
Political analyst Ricardo Sucre said the outlook for Mr. Chavez appears grim, saying Mr. Maduro’s body language during his televised appearance spoke volumes.
“Everything suggests Chavez’s health situation hasn’t evolved as hoped,” Mr. Sucre said. He said Mr. Maduro likely remained in Havana to keep close watch on how Mr. Chavez’s condition develops.
“These hours should be key to having a more definitive prognosis of Chavez’s health, and as a consequence make the corresponding political decisions according to the constitution,” Mr. Sucre said.
Mr. Sucre and other Venezuelans said it seems increasingly unlikely that Mr. Chavez would be able to be sworn in for a new six-year term as scheduled on Jan. 10.
The Venezuelan leader has not been seen or heard from since undergoing his fourth cancer-related surgery Dec. 11.
If Mr. Chavez dies or is unable to continue in office, the Venezuelan constitution says that a new election should be held within 30 days.
‘Situation does not look good’
Before his operation, Mr. Chavez acknowledged that he faced risks and designated Mr. Maduro as his successor, telling supporters they should vote for the vice president if a new presidential election were necessary.
Mr. Chavez said at the time that his cancer had come back despite previous surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation treatment. He has been fighting an undisclosed type of pelvic cancer since June 2011.