Hugo Chávez, the striking and opinionated leader of Venezuela for the last 13 years, has hardly been seen over the last months, his television appearances dwindling down to less than half what they once were. More than a year ago, Chávez announced he had a tumor removed from his pelvic region. Reuters reports that the leader has had three separate operations on his pelvis area over the last year and has shown signs of wearing down. He had a relapse of cancer in February, which sent speculations spinning about the state of his health and his longevity.
His appearances on television have become increasingly scant during these last months. In April and May, Chávez made television appearances in which he asked for divine intervention for his healthy recovery. With tears in his eyes, he announced in late April that he was beginning his final round of cancer treatments.
He has been seeking most of his cancer treatments in Cuba, a country Chávez has fostered deep health care ties with over the years. Chávez developed a program, called Barrio Adentro, that brings Cuban medical professionals to Venezuela to treat people in poverty-stricken areas. Many of these medical professionals are reported to be recruited medical students still in training. They are often paid scant wages while they complete their work in Venezuela.
Al Jazeera reports that, “some Cubans had volunteered to go to Venezuela, ‘many others have complained of being forced (or directed) by Cuban authorities to work in Venezuela under President Chávez’s social mission programs for a period of one to three years.”
Despite an apparently aggressive cancer, which has slowed down Chávez, he has insisted he will rally in time for the October elections. Strict guidelines have been put in place to hide and obscure the leader’s actual state of health, and no one one can be sure whether reports of his recovery are correct.
Regardless, elections are only five months away and many people are beginning to speculate about who might take Chávez’s place if his health is as bad as some reports suggest it is. A few loyalists, such as Foreign Minister Nicolas Maduro, have been suggested as candidates for the role as “New Chávez”, as the Daily Beast puts it. Regardless, it appears loyalists will keep the regime running even if Chávez’s health is on the decline.
No concrete answers are likely to be announced to Venezuelans or the world in the coming weeks. Chávez successfully held a two hour television broadcast this week, which suggests his health may be on the mend. Still, some professionals speculate he could be hiding his symptoms with careful medical treatment in order to make an appearance of solidarity and strength.
Photo Credit: Jose Cruz