Hugo Chavez has not been seen in public since June 10, when he underwent surgery in Cuba. The Venezuelan government insists he was successfully treated for a pelvic abscess, but there are consistent rumors that the strongman has prostate cancer. The opposition is demanding answers, while the government says Chavez is ruling from Havana.
The country has not heard at all from Chavez except for one phone call to a state television program. His mother and daughter flew to Cuba to visit him, giving the impression that his illness is more severe than is being portrayed. The Vice Foreign Minister shot down rumors about his health, tweeting, “President Chavez is recovering well from his surgery. His enemies should stop dreaming and his friends should stop worrying.”
Thor Halvorssen, President of the Human Rights Foundation, told FrontPage that he is cautious about reports of Chavez’s impending death because it may reflect wishful thinking, and rumors about the demise of tyrants are common. However, “something of consequence is occurring when the Venezuelan president has vanished from the public eye after working 12 years to become the center of the universe in Venezuela complete with a cult of personality.”
Chavez may or may not be seriously ill, but his absence is having a negative political effect on the government. Time Magazine says, “[M]any Venezuelans are fretting about who’s in charge of their government,” and the Vice President is refusing to become the temporary leader as required by the constitution. The opposition is criticizing the government for not being forthcoming about his absence.
Halvorssen said that there is also a psychological affect on Chavez’s supporters.
“The minions of Chavez had, up until the beginning of this month, considered him a permanent fixture. He is mortal. They had never fully realized that, without him, the entire Chavez ‘revolution’ crumbles and their sinecures vanish,” he said.
He added, “There are no alternatives to him, no substitutes, no possible replacements. And why would there be if the intention was for Chavez to rule, as he has often said, until 2050?”
Alek Boyd, a Venezuelan activist in London and founder of VCrisis.com, told FrontPage that “none of the reports circulating are credible” about Chavez’s health, but wrote that his stay in Havana proves that “Venezuela, as of today, is effectively a Cuban colony.”
Hugo Chavez has been the Castro regime’s biggest supporter from the beginning, and Cuba has played an instrumental role in shaping his government. It was not long after Chavez came to power that a Cuban intelligence officer defected, revealing that he was one of 1,500 agents sent to Venezuela to “brainwash” the country into idolizing Chavez. Since then, the Chavez government has operated with the help of thousands of Cuban advisers at every level, sending 100,000 barrels of oil per day to Cuba in return.
The former chief of Venezuela’s emergency management agency, Brigadier-General Antonio Rivero, resigned to protest the Cuba’s hold over his country. He said that “Cuban soldiers have been inducing the current transformation of the armed forces,” with Cuban intelligence present in almost every single ministry and military branch. In February 2010, a former interior minister of Cuba arrived in Caracas to oversee the Cuban presence, which has grown to number over 40,000 personnel. Even Venezuelan ambassadors have been identified as Cuban intelligence agents.
The questions about the health of Chavez may help stimulate opposition to his rule. Sixty-four percent of Venezuelans do not want him to have a third term. In September, Chavez suffered a significant defeat when the opposition was able to take away his party’s two-thirds majority in the National Assembly, despite everything Chavez has done to silence his critics. The result caused Carlos Ocariz, a mayor that is opposed to Chavez, to say that his “roller-coaster is going down.”
U.S. intelligence believes that Chavez is going to face increasing protests because of his disastrous handling of the economy. The Office of the Director of National Intelligence says that Cuba is also facing increasing difficulties and is increasingly dependent upon Venezuelan oil and income from the Cubans working under Chavez.
The Venezuelan strongman faces a tough re-election in 2012, and questions about his health could hurt his bid. It must be remembered, though, that he has not been shy about intimidating his opponents. His government dominates the media, and it is foolish to think that Chavez will not use all means necessary to remain in power. His brother just said, “It would be inexcusable to limit ourselves to only the electoral and not see other forms of struggle, including the armed struggle.”
Chavez must appear soon in order to stop rising speculation about his health, which will lead to doubts about his physical ability to lead. He may recover from whatever has befallen him, but his surgery is just another reminder that he is not as strong as he once was. His fortunes are declining, but he won’t go down without a fight.