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On cusp of new year, Chavez's health keeps Venezuleans fixated on future

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Venezuela is, of course, not alone in looking at what lies ahead in 2013. US President Barack Obama and US Congress are scrambling to avoid the so-called “fiscal cliff,” as they try to hammer out an agreement on taxes for the wealthy and budget cuts. And across the world, as the Monitor wrote in a round-up, nations are hoping that in 2013 they can bridge such political divides, some of them deadly. Venezuela, in hoping for more unity, was included on that list. But for now it is a nation holding its breath.

David Smilde, a guest blogger for the Monitor, told the Associated Press that the fact that Nicolas Maduro, the nation’s vice president, traveled to Cuba to personally meet with the president in recent days is itself telling. “The situation does not look good. The fact that Maduro himself would go to Cuba, leaving Hector Navarro in charge, only seems understandable if Chavez’s health is precarious,” said Mr. Smilde, who runs a blog on Venezuela for the Washington Office on Latin America.

The trip likely gave Mr. Maduro a chance “to be able to talk to Chavez himself and perhaps to talk to the Castros and other Cuban advisers about how to navigate the possibility of Chavez not being able to be sworn in on Jan. 10,” Mr. Smilde said. “Mentioning twice in his nationally televised speech that Chavez has suffered new complications only reinforces the appearance that the situation is serious.”

If Chavez does not recover, there are many questions about what is next for the oil-rich, Andean nation that has been dominated by Chavez since he took office in 1999.

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