MIAMI (CBS4) – As Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez prepares to undergo a third cancer surgery in Cuba, many are speculating on what his ailing health means for the future of his country, the rest of Latin America and the United States.

Venezuelans in South Florida are wondering if the recently re-elected leader will make it to Inauguration Day.

“With the grace of God, we’ll come out victorious,” Chavez said Saturday night in an address regarding his condition.

Kassandra La Riva moved to the U.S. from Venezuela two years ago. The 20-year-old, who is studying political science, hopes to one day work in government in her home country but not under the current Chavez regime.

“I would like to work for a different system,” La Riva said Sunday night in Doral, “One that seeks the future, one that looks forward.”

La Riva thinks Chavez’s latest cancer revelation means change is coming.

“I think if Chavez goes, his whole revolution is not going to stay in power,” La Riva said.

All the speculation comes just a day after Chavez announced he’d be returning to Cuba to be treated for his recurring cancer.

On Sunday, Venezuela’s National Assembly agreed to grant Chavez’s request to travel to Cuba for surgery.

“My sense is that this announcement is an admission that he’s pretty ill and he may not make it in to the next year,” said Dr. Susan Kaufman Purcell, Director of the Center for Hemispheric Policy at the University of Miami.

That announcement came Saturday night, when the 58-year-old Venezuelan president named his vice president, Nicolas Maduro, as his choice to lead the country in the event that he himself no longer could.

“I think announcing that Maduro as his successor is an effort to head off this intra-elite conflict because the stakes are very high. This is an oil economy,” Purcell said.

Dr. Purcell said only time will tell whether or not the Chavez regime plays by the rules.

“According to the Constitution, if Chavez were to die within the first 4 years of his next term, there’s supposed to be a new election,” Purcell said. “So let’s see what happens with that.”

Chavez was re-elected in October in an election that was watched closely here in South Florida. Many local Venezuelans had hoped for a change in leadership.

Now, La Riva has renewed hope that change may come soon.

“I don’t wish for someone to die, but I don’t want him to return to power,” she said.

Chavez is scheduled to be sworn in for another six-year term on January 10th.


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