In the early morning of February 18, Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez tweeted that he was back in Caracas, after spending over two months in a Havana hospital.
On December 11, Chavez underwent a fourth round of surgery for an undisclosed cancer. Chavez was immediately moved to a military hospital under cover of great secrecy. Yet, enormous uncertainties regarding his health persist. Is the 58-year-old Chavez really on a track of recovery? Or is he caught in the terminal stages of a battle against an aggressive cancer?
Noted a former Venezuelan ambassador, “[T]he only thing that has changed is the location of his seclusion. The uncertainty is the same. Nothing is certain.” From a political standpoint, death in Caracas appears preferable to dying on a foreign shore under the supervision of the Castros, since many Venezuelans remain worried about Cuba’s outsized role in their nation’s political future.
The secretive manner of Chavez’s return in the dead of night certainly opens questions regarding his health. Nevertheless, the government continues to organize mass rallies in support of their ailing leader who are encouraged, perhaps cynically, to cling to a hope that El Commadante will return.
Venezuelans are increasingly vexed by Chavez’s absence, which has left their nation without a properly inaugurated president and facing a potentially polarizing presidential election if Chavez cannot regain the strength to govern. They long for what John Adams described as a “government of laws and not of men.”
Confidence in the future of Chavez’s populist economic model has also waned following the recent currency devaluation that has raised additional concerns about inflation, soaring food prices, and increasing scarcities. A growing maze of regulations, restrictions, and price controls may dampen capital flight but not stop it. In Venezuela, increasing demand continues to chase dwindling supply.
For now, Chavez’s return has done little to calm anxieties about what may in fact be the final chapter in the life of the Bolivarian caudillo (strong man).