* Chavez has been fighting cancer since 2011
* Has not been seen in public since December
* Chose Maduro as his preferred successor
(Adds background, details, byline)
By Eduardo Garcia and Alexandra Valencia
QUITO, Feb 21 Ecuador's President Rafael Correa
said on Thursday that Venezuela's Hugo Chavez is recovering from
cancer surgery, but if he had to step down Vice President
Nicolas Maduro would be "extremely capable" of running the OPEC
Correa, who won a sweeping re-election victory on Sunday,
told Reuters he thinks Maduro is the right person to take over
in Venezuela if the socialist leader needs to step down.
"Regardless of who may take charge, my main concern is that
Chavez recovers ... but in case he cannot be in charge, Vice
President Maduro is extremely capable," Correa told Reuters in
Chavez made a surprise return home from Cuba on Monday after
undergoing his fourth cancer operation in 18 months on Dec. 11.
He has never said exactly what type of cancer he has, only that
it was diagnosed in his pelvic area in mid-2011.
The 58-year-old leader has named Maduro, a former bus driver
and union activist, as his preferred successor if he had to step
down and a new presidential election were held.
Correa said he believed any future transition of power in
Caracas would be democratic if Chavez had to step down.
"All the processes since Chavez has been in power, as far as
I know, have been extremely democratic. Those who lose might not
like it, that's another issue ... But Venezuela has a vibrant
democracy," he said.
Correa, a close friend and ally of Chavez, said he spoke
with Maduro on Wednesday and plans to visit Venezuela soon.
Bolivian President Evo Morales said on Wednesday he had been
unable to see Chavez when he visited Caracas this week because
the Venezuelan leader was receiving treatment.
(Editing by Daniel Wallis and Eric Walsh)