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  HOME | Opinion (Click here for more)

Ponce: Where's Venezuela's Hugo?

By Carlos E. Ponce

He can be dead or alive, but the truth is that Chavez has been out of the spotlight for more than three weeks with almost total secrecy. In spite of news conferences, photos and videos, nobody knows for sure about his health condition, nobody knows for sure about what kind of health problem he has aside from cancer. He just went to Cuba and then he was in intensive care.

For anyone as vocal as Chavez, it is hard to think that he will be out of the media for so much time without a serious illness. But so far if it is “pelvic abscess”, prostate or colon cancer, massive infection or other disease, and only the Cuban doctors and his friend Fidel Castro know for sure. It can also be part of the theatrical manipulation of Chavez, and he is just waiting to return to Venezuela as one who fought for his life and defeated the ultimate Opposition -- death.

This situation really just proves the various aspects of Venezuelan “Democracy.”

The first one is that, historically, only the worst dictatorial regimes have kept the health of their leaders hidden from the general public, because “the leader is the leader”.

It is also a common strategy from traditional tyrannies worldwide to keep people afraid of revenge from the leader should someone "take advantage" of his absence -- that is now the case in Venezuela. Chavez is so obsessed with power that not even in intensive care in Cuba will he appoint a temporary president.

According to his ministers, he has been “in control” from Cuba. This only happens in “Banana Republics”, a president in surgery and intensive care in another country for over three weeks and he continues in full control of his country?

This is just another bizarre Venezuelan style authoritarian showcase. That means that for Venezuela, it doesn’t matter if a president is out of his country for several weeks; he can rule from there without any constitutional or legal boundaries from Cuba. Maybe Chavez will now begin to rule permanently from Havana in the upcoming future.

For twelve years Chavez and his followers have been telling the world that the US government, the extreme right and Venezuela’s opposition have been planning to kill him or to take him from power with a coup d’état. After three weeks of his “vacation" in Cuba, nothing has happened. It is time for Chavez and his followers to cut that charade, because this was the perfect time and no one "took advantage" -- mainly because nobody was planning to. It is also an opportunity to prove that there is no “Chavismo” without Chavez, all his ministries and paid-military were so afraid without him in power and his potential revenge that no one wanted to talk or do anything. So Chavez is indeed the strongman from Venezuela.

In the case of the opposition in Venezuela, this case proves that their leadership remains fragmented. We have no signs of clear leader and they were not able to put together a response for a government from Cuba and "rule by twitter." Any serious opposition will have at least a plan to request valid information about the “precious” leader and if he is alive, dead or exactly what kind of sickness he has. Chavez seems to control the country and the opposition even from his hospital bed.

In the end, it doesn’t matter where Chavez is or exactly what kind of illness he has. What matters is that his autocracy has left Venezuela without leaders both in the opposition and within Chavez's party. In terms of strategic planning, this health issue has been proving that Chavez doesn’t want to leave power, even with a serious or critical health problem. And that he doesn’t trust anyone in his government. Planning accordingly will require the opposition and democratic forces to know that even if they win in next year's election, Chavez will not give away power as easy as people think.

Even if Chavez returns to Venezuela he will remain sick, but sick of power and cruelty, he will be continue his path of destruction.

Dr. Carlos E. Ponce is the Reagan-Fascell Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) and General Coordinator of the Latin American and Caribbean Network for Democracy, a network of over 210 leading civil society organizations across the Americas. In his native Venezuela, Dr. Ponce led the Justice and Development Consortium (Asociación Civil Consorcio Desarrollo y Justicia) — a nongovernmental organization that develops justice-reform and conflict-resolution programs at the local level. He previously worked as executive secretary of Venezuela’s National Human Rights Commission and as an advisor to the Venezuelan Congress.

Ponce earned his PhD from Northeastern University, Master of Arts in Urban and Environmental Policy and Planning from Tufts University, Master of Studies in Environmental Law (M.S.E.L.) (Magna Cum Laude) from Vermont Law School, and his law degree from Andres Bello Catholic University in Venezuela. He was also a Fulbright Fellow, Tufts Fellow, World Bank/Fundayacucho fellow, European Union Visitor Program fellow, and in the US Department of State Visitor Program. The views expressed in this article represent the opinions and analysis of the writer and do not reflect those of the National Endowment for Democracy or its staff. Twitter: @ceponces


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