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Chavez council stirs succession speculation

By Mariano Castillo, CNN
updated 2:08 PM EDT, Thu May 3, 2012
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gestures after signing a new labour law in Caracas on April, 30, 2012.
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez gestures after signing a new labour law in Caracas on April, 30, 2012.
  • Chavez named members for the Council of State
  • The body will have influence over the government
  • Vice President Elias Jaua will preside, as the constitution says

(CNN) -- With his health in question and speculation rampant about his future, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has named 10 Venezuelans to an influential commission.

The Council of State, as it is known, is stipulated in the Venezuelan Constitution as the highest circle of advisers to the president, but has never actually been formed.

Now in a battle with cancer, Chavez announced in January that it was time to constitute the council, and Wednesday named his appointments.

Venezuelans and international observers alike are likely to scrutinize his choices for any signs of transition or succession should Chavez become incapacitated.

Chavez's choices include a veteran of his administration, a military man and a writer, among others.

The president of the council will be Vice President Elias Jaua, as the constitution stipulates.

Chavez named five principal members. Among them are Jose Vincente Rangel, a journalist who came to hold a number of posts under Chavez, including foreign minister, defense minister and vice president.

Venezuela's former ambassador to the Organization of American States and former foreign minister Roy Chaderton was also named to the council.

German Mundarain was elected by the country's national assembly as ombudsman from 2000 to 2007.

Rafael Giacopini is an active duty admiral who currently serves as secretary of the country's defense council.

Chavez also named Luis Britto Garcia, a playwright and author, to the council.

In addition, the president listed five others as alternate members.

The timing of the appointments is significant, as speculation increases over who will succeed Chavez if he becomes too ill to govern, or if he dies.

He has been reluctant to name a successor, but the Council of State, as envisioned in the constitution, stands to wield significant influence.

The council is the "highest body of advisers" to the government, the constitution states.

"There are no surprising names here," said Javier Corrales, a professor of political science at Amherst College.

With so much uncertainty surrounding Chavez's health and the upcoming elections, the appointments answer part of the puzzle of who is close to Chavez, he said. But it does not end the uncertainty, he added.

Whether the group simply advises Chavez, or a successor, or takes up more powers of its own, "anything is possible," Corrales said.

He envisioned a hypothetical scenario in which Chavez remained president, but, too ill to make decisions, delegated power to the council.

Chavez in January said the council was "an institution that we lack and that is in the constitution but that we never activated. It's sowed here. The time to activate it has come."

The fact that Jaua, as vice president, will preside over the council elevates his status and could signal a victory for those supporting him as a potential successor to Chavez.

Fidel and Raul Castro, who are trying to influence the succession, favor Jaua, said Roger Noriega, an analyst with the conservative American Enterprise Institute and former U.S. ambassador to the OAS. Analysts also say Chavez's brother, Adan Chavez, is also liked by the Cubans.

But Chavez is not the only one with say on the council members. According to the constitution, the national assembly and the supreme court get to name one person each to the body. Both institutions are favorable to the president. The governors of all the states will also have to pick one governor to be part of the council, too.

CNN's Arthur Brice contributed to this report.

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