Since Hugo Chávez’s went to Havana in mid-December for an emergency operation, the 58-year-old Venezuelan president´s health status has turned into a storm of rumours, as uncertain as his fourth term in the presidential office.
Hours before surgery, Chávez named Vice-president Nicolás Maduro the successor to continue the Bolivarian regime in Venezuela, but since then there has been little information. The controversy about his illness and the inscrutable secrecy of the government has made leaders all over the world wonder what the real future of Venezuela will be, questioning his true health and the constitutionality of his prolonged absence from the presidential office.
The true status?
Vice-president Maduro emphatically announced last week that Chávez is gaining strength after overcoming a respiratory infection from surgery and may soon return to Caracas. Likewise, to prove that the president is winning his ‘last battle’, several media have released a portrait of the Bolivarian leader strolling on a Cuban beach.
On the other hand, Spanish newspaper El País were forced to backtrack after they published a photo supposedly showing an ailing Chávez with respirator tubes in his mouth, but they later admitted the photo had been a fake. It seems that almost every day, Chávez dies and comes back to life.
Although the president failed to attend the scheduled inauguration ceremony, Nicolás Maduro ensured that Chávez’s hold on government remains secure. The government made clear to the people that the inauguration is simply a formality and the Venezuelan leader will legally be able to resume office after he recovers. According to the Supreme Court, the Congress cannot consider him absent from office, for no matter how ill he is, only Hugo Chávez has the authority to do so.[note color=”#CED4EB”]In this uncertain context, Venezuelan law considers these possibilities:
- If Chávez dies within the first four years of his six-year mandate, the Electoral Council will call a new election within 30 days.
- If he dies in the last two years of his mandate, the vice -president in turn would take the office until the next scheduled election.[/note]
However, the opposition leader Ramon Guillermo Aveledo has called for the government to schedule constitutionally mandated elections within 30 days if Chavez is not in a physical condition to return from Cuba. “To make us believe the president is governing shows a lack of seriousness that borders on irresponsibility,” said Aveledo at a press conference in the capital.
“He is a complete revolutionary, a man of great experience despite his youth, with great dedication and capacity for work, leading, and handling the most difficult situations,” Chávez said about his deputy some days before cancer surgery in Havana.
Where Hugo Chavez is a charismatic whirlwind, Nicolás Maduro seems to be just the opposite: a clam man. 50-year-old Vice-president and foreign Minister is always smiling, not verbally loud, always open to dialogue, a sober diplomat. Over the future of Venezuela, however, Maduro was clear: “You need to be clear who the leader and boss is, only a president called Chávez.”
José H.S., an university professor settled in Lechería, considers neither Maduro, nor Chávez as the constitutional leader. “The first one has not been ever elected, and the second one is absent, so elections must be called.”
Jorge B. is a Venezuelan writer who´s currently living in Madrid, and his way of thinking is clear: “Maduro must call elections and I have no doubt he will win, in fact, he is perfectly able to continue Chavismo.” About the relationship between Venezuela and Cuba, Jorge believes “Maduro is not a puppet of the Castro brothers, although it´s certain Cuba needs Venezuela´s oil.”
In 2006, Fidel Castro delegated all his duties to his brother Raúl, a measure also described as temporary while the Cuban leader recovered from surgery, and some are suggesting that a similar situation is emerging in Venezuela.
Chávez and Castro, who first met in 1994, have remained close friends and collaborated on several trade and political programs, especially in the oil market. The Castro-Chávez alliance has always yielded undeniable benefits to Cuba, but it is more than political calculation or commercial exchanges. Its reasons and foundation run deeper.
Like Cuba, Venezuela is also living the experience of being both with and without its charismatic leader, but the cult of personality that Chavez long nurtured has been flourishing with even greater force in his absence. If Chávez does step down, Maduro will have a lot to live up to. There will be those calling for sweeping reforms across the country, and those that want to maintain Chávez’s style of Bolivarian government.