In a hospital room in Havana, Hugo Chavez sits in a track suit wanting people to believe that he is fit to lead, unaffected by a recent slippage of health. Yet, reading between the lines, Venezuela’s elected authoritarian is not in the pink.
On June 10, Chavez checked into a Cuban hospital to have an abscess in his pelvis removed. As he recovers, the ailing Chavez is pictured fraternizing with his best friend and mentor, Fidel Castro, and current Cuban dictator Raul Castro. The official press in Venezuela has offered little news for home consumption. Observed an opposition leader: “Dictators publish pictures. Democracies publish information.”
Back home, Venezuelans rightfully want answers regarding Chavez’s health and his ability to govern. Opposition legislators such as Maria Corina Machado are frustrated by what they view as an unconstitutional leave of absence. Machado said, “Venezuela has been humiliated because we are governed from Cuba, be it by Chavez or by (Fidel) Castro.”
The Venezuelan constitution states that the National Assembly must approve any trip that lasts more than five days, and any absence lasting up to 90 days requires the vice president to take over presidential duties. Chavez has been in Cuba since June 8, and his return remains problematic. Next in line for the presidency is a thuggish hack from Chavez’s United Socialist Party, Vice President Elias Jaua.
Problems needing the executive’s attention continue to arise. On June 12, a three-day riot broke out at El Rodeo I prison, leaving 22 people dead. It spread to El Rodeo II. Armed inmates continue to hold Rodeo II. Notes the U.S. State Department: “Violent crime in Venezuela is pervasive, both in the capital, Caracas, and in the interior. The country’s overall per capita murder rate is cited as one of the top five in the world.”
During Chavez’s medical leave of absence, Venezuela has experienced a sudden increase in electrical power outages—once more raising questions about Chavez’s competence in managing investment in critical infrastructure. After experiencing a power outage in late April that left roughly 40 percent of the country blacked out, outages continue to persist. A failed transformer in the state of Zulia affected states on the Colombian border as well as the second largest city, Maracaibo. As a result of these outages, Venezuela will reportedly begin rationing electricity for the second year in a row.
Venezuela’s inflation rate continues to rise like a hospital fever chart, forcing the government into a series of price control and rationing measures. Inflation rates have skyrocketed to 23–30 percent, and government debt continues to climb.
Chavez’s sick leave is certainly no summer vacation. But June 2011 may be a turning point when a majority of Venezuelans realize that a one-leader, Cuban-style democracy is a prescription for neither political health nor economic sanity.
Co-author Olivia Snow is currently a member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation. For more information on interning at Heritage, please visit: http://www.heritage.org/about/departments/ylp.cfm