If Chávez can't attend his inauguration, his designated successor might be overshadowed by an interim leader.
Some Latin American nations voted against a UN resolution condemning violence in Syria this year. But the region can still send a message that the use of chemical weapons will end their support.
Despite economic strides, two-thirds of Latin America averaged in the bottom half of the 2012 Transparency International corruption rankings. Countries like Brazil, however, offer some hope.
Chávez's travel to Cuba could mean missing important gubernatorial elections in December, potentially benefiting the opposition.