Venezuela would have to hold a new election if Chavez were forced to step down during the first four years of his term. More health problems would make it even more difficult for Chavez to push ahead with his promised drive to expand the state's role in the economy and provide even more entitlements.
"As long as Chavez remains as the key driver here, there might be far more inertia than change," said Javier Corrales, a U.S. political science professor at Amherst College.
Venezuelans will choose state governors in December, and Chavez is likely to save any devaluation until after that election. Such moves are always hugely unpopular because they erode the value of salaries, which have already been hit hard by inflation in Venezuela.
Associated Press writers Jorge Rueda and Vivian Sequera contributed to this report.
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