After a three-year struggle against cancer, including four surgeries and numerous courses of chemotherapy, President Hugo Chavez appears to be nearing the end of his days. On Friday night, Vice President Nicolas Maduro announced that Venezuela’s emblematic leader is “fighting for his life” in a military hospital in Caracas, the capital of the country.
After a fourth surgery and continuous treatment in Cuba, Chavez returned to Venezuela in February. Since then he has not made any public appearances and his fourth consecutive inauguration as president, which resulted from his victory in the 2012 elections, took place while he was absent. The type of malignancy which Venezuela’s president has been combatting has been kept in secrecy as well, raising numerous suspicions about Chavez’s veritable chances of full recovery.
What is next? Judging from the latest statement of VP Nicolas Madura about the severity of Chavez’s condition, it seems as though Venezuelans will be back to the ballot boxes before their electoral favorite assumes his fourth term in office. Venezuela, much like Cuba, is a country where media tends to present its political elite in the best light possible because of the adverse effects which acting otherwise could accrue. Therefore, such a bold statement, coming from the top of the country’s political hierarchy, should be construed as a clear sign of Chavez’s deteriorating health and, if not as a sign of his imminent demise, then at least as a sign that he will not be able to take up his duties and rule single-handedly any time soon.
If President Chavez steps down or loses the battle against cancer, Venezuela will certainly face an interesting time in its political history. Admittedly, in the country, there is not a figure as unifying and authoritative at the same time as is Chavez. Therefore, his distancing from the ruling elite will likely result in either Venezuela embarking on a path of democratic reforms, similar to the ones Raul Castro introduced in Cuba, or in someone’s attempt to assert authority, similar to Chavez’s.
The current protests in the country against the modest information which the authorities have released regarding Venezuela’s leader, however, indicate the existence of a source of discontent between Venezuelans and Chavez’s substitutes. Presidential Candidate Henrique Radonski, for example, was quick to act and issued a statement via his Twitter account which criticized the current administration regarding the secrecy in which it keeps the real state of Chavez’s health. His denunciation was likely not motivated by genuine concern about the opponent who vanquished him in the October 2012 elections. Instead, should Chavez disappear from the political stage, Radonski will face VP Madura, Chavez’s choice for successor, in snap elections, so capitalizing on people’s anger as a way of gaining political dividends definitely played its part in provoking him to write the critical tweet.
The upcoming days now seem to be of crucial importance to the future of Venezuela. As the current authorities, pressured by the people and faced with no other options, release more information about Chavez’s condition, it will become clear what political course the country will set out on. As it appears, however, another electoral battle between Chavez’s ideas and the reformist, more democratic wing on Venezuela’s political stage is coming up: namely, a snap election in which VP Madura will face Henrique Radonski just six months after the October 2012 vote.