Talk of Chavez cancer downturn rattles Venezuela [View all]
Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez's absence from the spotlight, his creation of a formal advisory committee, and media leaks of medical details are feeding speculation of a downturn in his nearly year-long battle with cancer.
With a presidential election looming for October 7 in the OPEC nation ruled by Chavez since 1999, Venezuelans are obsessively focused on his condition and fretting about the consequences of a possible succession struggle.
Should the rumors be true - and they are fiercely denied by government officials - an end to the Chavez era would shake Venezuela and have major repercussions around Latin America where leftist allies like Cuba depend on his oil-fuelled largesse.
Spending most of the last six weeks in Havana for radiotherapy treatment, Chavez has only been seen once live in public since mid-April - and he ended that short address on Monday choking on his words and with tears in his eyes.