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Venezuela urged by Brazil to hold vote if Chavez dies

| Monday, Jan. 14, 2013, 9:20 p.m.

SAO PAULO — Brazil is urging Venezuela's government to hold elections as quickly as possible if President Hugo Chavez dies, senior officials told Reuters on Monday, a major intervention by Latin America's regional powerhouse that could help ensure a smoother leadership transition in Caracas.

Brazilian officials have expressed their wishes directly to Venezuelan Vice President Nicolas Maduro, the officials said on condition of anonymity. Chavez has designated Maduro as his preferred successor if he loses his battle with cancer.

“We are explicitly saying that if Chavez dies, we would like to see elections as soon as possible,” one official said. “We think that's the best way to ensure a peaceful democratic transition, which is Brazil's main desire.”

Chavez is in Cuba receiving treatment and he has not been seen in public for a month, prompting speculation that he is near death.

Venezuela's constitution says a new election must be held within 30 days if the president dies. Before leaving for Cuba, Chavez urged Venezuelans to back Maduro should the cancer leave him incapacitated, and Chavez's backers and the opposition appear to be preparing behind the scenes for a possible new vote.

Yet some foreign officials in the region, and some activists in more radical Venezuelan opposition circles, have privately expressed fears that the government could bend the rules if it wants, especially if polls show Maduro might lose.

The Supreme Court's controversial decision to postpone Chavez's inauguration last week reinforced concerns that loopholes could be used to keep the government in power.

Venezuela's government said on Sunday that Chavez's health has improved somewhat, though his lung infection is requiring special care.

Brazil's stance on Venezuela is critical because it is by far Latin America's biggest country and it enjoys growing economic and diplomatic clout in the region.

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