* President suffering post-surgery complications
* Socialist leader diagnosed with cancer in mid-2011
* Chavez has not been seen, heard from in three weeks
By Daniel Wallis
CARACAS, Dec 31 Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez
is in stable condition and spent Monday with his daughters, the
cancer-stricken leader's son in law said in an appeal for
supporters to ignore rumors about his condition.
Chavez has not been seen in public nor heard from in more
than three weeks. The vice president said on Sunday that the
58-year-old was suffering a third set of complications after
surgery in Cuba on Dec. 11, his fourth operation in 18 months.
"Compatriots, DON'T believe in ill-intentioned rumors,"
Science Minister Jorge Arreaza, who is married to Chavez's
daughter Rosa Virginia, wrote on Twitter from Havana where they
have been at the former soldier's bedside.
"President Chavez spent the day quietly and stable, together
with his daughters."
Chavez has not provided details of the cancer that was first
diagnosed in June 2011, leading to speculation among Venezuela's
29 million people and criticism from opposition leaders.
Officials have said he suffered unexpected bleeding as
result of the complex, six-hour operation on his pelvic area,
and that doctors had to fight a respiratory infection, which
then caused his latest setback on Sunday.
The government has repeatedly described Chavez's condition
as "delicate," warning Venezuelans to prepare for difficult days
ahead and urging them to pray for "el Comandante."
The main New Year's Eve party in downtown Caracas was
canceled. Instead, the information minister hosted a smaller
gathering which featured musicians, speeches and prayers and was
dubbed "Now More Than Ever With Chavez."
The president's death or resignation due to illness would
upend politics in Venezuela, where his personalized brand of
oil-financed socialism has made him a hero to the poor majority
but a pariah to critics who call him a dictator.
His condition is also being watched closely around Latin
America, especially in other leftist-run nations such as Cuba,
Ecuador and Bolivia, which depend on subsidized fuel shipments
and other Venezuelan aid for their fragile economies.
In his New Year's message, Bolivian President Evo Morales
said the region's leaders were missing Chavez badly.
"We feel that there has been a tremendous absence,
especially for the presidents like us who are anti-imperialist
and anti-neoliberal," Morales said.
"We are convinced that with the great will of Bolivia's
people, all the world's people who pray, who do rituals to
Mother Earth for his health, our brother president will be there
soon. This is our great wish on the last day of 2012."
Chavez is due to be sworn in again in Venezuela on Jan. 10
after he won re-election in October. But top officials from his
ruling Socialist Party (PSUV) have suggested the ceremony could
be pushed back if he were unable to return.
For the opposition, any postponement would be just the
latest sign that Chavez is not fit to govern and that new
elections should be held to choose his replacement.
If Chavez had to step down, new elections would be called
within 30 days and his newly named heir apparent, Vice President
Nicolas Maduro, would be the PSUV candidate.
Maduro has tried to copy Chavez's bombastic rhetoric in
speeches during the president's absence, but he has struggled to
replicate Chavez's extraordinary man-of-the-people charisma.
Opposition figures believe they would have a better chance
against Maduro than against the president, who for 14 years has
appeared almost unbeatable at the ballot box.
Henrique Capriles, the opposition leader who was beaten by
Chavez in the presidential election in October, said in a
year-end message that Venezuelans needed to unite.
"Everything indicates that 2013 will be a tough year with
big changes," he said. "Venezuela has learned a lot in very
little time. Today we know the value of union, of agreement, of
the need to find common ground and work together to achieve it."
Polls conducted before October's vote - well before Chavez
named him as his successor - showed Capriles would beat Maduro.
But it could be a very different story if a new election
were to be called now, with the vice president expected to be
carried on a wave of emotion from distraught Chavez supporters.
As the New Year approached in Caracas, many PSUV loyalists
retweeted a message that read: "In 2012 I cried with Chavez,
loved with Chavez, voted for Chavez, laughed with Chavez and
prayed for Chavez. In 2013, I will continue to be with Chavez."