(Repeats with no changes to text)
* V.P., Congress boss and oil minister are key players
* Trio slowly assume leadership as Chavez remains in Cuba
* President not been seen since Dec. 11 cancer surgery
CARACAS, Jan 14 (Reuters) - A month after President Hugo
Chavez left Venezuela for a fourth cancer operation, his
commanding control over the government is slowly moving into the
hands of an unlikely trio of proteges who may shape the future
of the oil-rich nation.
Chavez's cancer has left him in serious condition in a Cuban
hospital and created a leadership vacuum after 14 years of
cult-of-personality socialism that has made him a dominant
figure in Latin America.
Given a micro-managing style that put an inordinate number
of decisions in his hands, and his unique ability to control an
alliance that ranges from union activists to military officers,
that leadership is now being shared out among his top allies.
Vice President and anointed successor Nicolas Maduro,
Congress chief Diosdado Cabello, and Oil Minister Rafael Ramirez
- a political heir apparent, a soldier and an energy boss - are
emerging as the architects of a transition to post-Chavez rule.
"I do not think that within the party there will be a single
heir that can fill the president's shoes," said Heinz Dieterich,
a Mexico-based sociologist and former Chavez advisor who split
with the president over how to create a theoretical underpinning
for his "21st century socialism."
The three leaders' gradual assertion of influence signals
they are in a test run of how to share responsibilities in the
absence of Chavez, who was unable to swear in for a new six-year
term on Jan. 10 after being hit by a severe lung infection
linked to his operation in early December.
The balance of power between the three - who have not always
gotten along - and their ability to work together will be
crucial in determining whether Venezuela continues on Chavez's
path of radical socialism or evolves toward a moderate
Brazil-style leftist administration.
Outraged critics say Venezuela is rudderless and
subordinated to the whims of Cuba, where Chavez is receiving
treatment under the shroud of state secrecy. The troika gathered
there on Sunday to meet with Cuban President Raul Castro.
"We know which commander they're taking orders from," said
opposition legislator Maria Corina Machado.
If Chavez left office, new elections would be called within
30 days, with Maduro running as the Socialist Party candidate.
But the government has provided only minimal details of Chavez's
condition, with no concrete evidence that he is even conscious.
Authorities say there is no need for a formal medical review
to determine if he is fit to continue governing, and they appear
willing to leave him in charge of the country - perhaps in a
vegetative state - for weeks or even months.
The transition is being closely watched by oil companies
itching for greater access to the world's largest crude
reserves, as well as by foreign investors who have bought
Venezuela's high-yielding and widely-traded bonds.
Maduro, an ex-union activist and former bus driver turned
foreign minister and now president-in-waiting, has Chavez's
blessing as the ruling Socialist Party's future leader.
Seen as a moderate given to dialogue, he has already made
initial contact with Washington after years of frayed ties with
the United States. He could ease the country's polarization by
mending fences with the opposition, but risks the wrath of
radicals if he moves too quickly.
Cabello, a former soldier who took part in a failed 1992
coup that first made Chavez famous, has much greater sway than
Maduro among a crucial military faction that controls several
key ministries and a swath of state governorships.
As president of Congress, he would be in line to lead a
caretaker government if Chavez were to die or step down - making
him a potential king-maker. He is seen as more intransigent than
Maduro, and critics liken him to a thug. One opposition leader
this week flippantly referred to him as "Al Capone."
Dieterich has said he believes Cabello would betray Chavez
in much the same way that Soviet dictator Josef Stalin
consolidated control over the Communist Party even though
revolutionary leader Vladimir Lenin before dying had left
instructions that Stalin should be removed.
Chavez's allies have furiously criticized Dieterich's view
and Maduro and Cabello make repeated displays of unity, hugging
uncomfortably during televised broadcasts and shooting down
rumors of rivalry, to sometimes awkward effect.
"People are worried that Diosdado and I are killing each
other," Maduro boomed at a rally the day Chavez missed his
inauguration. "We're more united than ever. We're killing each
other with love for the people and loyalty to Chavez."
Ramirez, who also runs state oil company PDVSA, has started
to exert his own influence with adulatory declarations of
support for Chavez and vows that oil workers will be forever
faithful to the president's self-styled revolution.
He is a power broker because of his control over the
petrodollars that finance Chavez's much-loved social programs.
He also heads a massive campaign to build homes for tens of
thousands of families that helped Chavez win re-election.
"PDVSA belongs to the people and will remain in the people's
hands," he told a meeting last week of union officials and
company directors. "Being loyal to President Chavez means being
loyal to what he says and does. Now more than ever there is
unity among the revolutionaries."
Ramirez's own views are often overshadowed by his fierce
dedication to Chavez, though his years of experience negotiating
with foreign oil companies may help him build bridges with the
opposition if the political environment changes.
Though he has overseen some of the world's most acrimonious
nationalizations, he has also been able to win investment from
energy giants when it was in the government's interest.
Opposition leaders want much more information on Chavez's
condition and, if he is unable to serve as president, they say a
caretaker must be named and new elections called.
Chavez's team says he is recovering but the opposition
insists Maduro, Cabello and Ramirez are preparing for a
post-Chavez era if he is unable to return.
"It's obvious a transition is in place. The question is, how
long can it go on?" said local analyst Luis Vicente Leon.
(Additional reporting by Marianna Parraga and Enrique Andres
Pretel in Caracas and Gabriel Stargardter in Mexico City.;
Editing by Daniel Wallis and Kieran Murray. Desking by