Caracas, 15 December 2012
“It is absolutely necessary that I undergo surgery within the next days” (“Es absolutamente imprescindible someterme a una intervención quirúrgica en los próximos dias”), President Chávez informed Venezuelans last Saturday 8 December in a nationwide radio and TV transmission which started shortly after 9:30 pm. Flanked by National Assembly President Diosdado Cabello to his right and Vice President Nicolas Maduro to his left , and surrounded by some of his Ministers, notably his new Minister of Defense, Admiral Diego Molero Bellavia, he then went on to anoint Nicolas Maduro, his Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, as his political successor, not only to conclude his present mandate ending on 10 January, but also as the PSUV’s candidate when elections will have to be called should he “not be able to continue as President” (“si…se presentara una circunstancia sobrevenida que me inhabilite para continuar al frente de la Presidencia…”). This is his fourth operation since he announced that he had been struck by cancer.
In his informal remarks to the nation the President took great care in emphasizing that in July, before he inscribed his candidacy, he insisted he had undergone again all medical tests, in Venezuela as well as in Cuba, all of which had proven favourable, and that if anything negative would have surfaced in those tests, he stated, “be assured that I would not have inscribed and taken on the presidencial candidacy”. (“insistí en hacerme todos los chequeos médicos antes de inscribir la candidatura aquí en Venezuela, en Cuba, y bueno, todos los resultados fueron favorables. Si hubiese surgido algún resultado negativo en esos exámenes, tengan ustedes la seguridad que yo no hubiese inscrito y asumido la candidatura presidencial”).
After 7 October again all tests, both in Caracas and Havana, proved satisfactory, the President continued, but a small inflamation and some pain, probably as a consequence of the radiotherapy and of the effort during the campaign, called for more attention. It was then decided to carry out new, more exhaustive tests, “and well, unfortunately, and so I inform the country, in this exhaustive revision the presence of malignous cells is detected in the same affected area, again”. (“Decidimos entonces con el equipo medico adelantar una revisión, una nueva revisión exhaustiva, y bueno, lamentablemente, así lo digo al país, en esa revisión exhaustiva surge la presencia, en la misma área afectada, de algunas células malignas, nuevamente”). For the full text in Spanish click on http://www.revolucionomuerte.org/index.php/discursos . For the video click on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Lza6Po_biJw .
President Chávez was operated in Havana last Tuesday 11 December, reportedly in order to excise two vertebrae which had been invaded by the cancer. The operation lasted six hours, and he has since been in intensive care. After heavy bleeding his condition was upgraded from “stable” to favourable” this last Thursday, but the rumour mill had also mentioned septic shock. However, Minister of Information Villegas informed yesterday evening that Chávez had been able to speak to his family.
Most agree that Chávez is not likely to be sworn in a fourth time on 10 January, in which case the Constitution foresees a new presidential election to be carried out within 30 days of the “absolute absence” of the President of the Republic. In such an event the President of the National Assembly acts as President of the Republic, and calls for a presidential election (in which he cannot be a candidate), to be held within the next thirty days.
The regime is very nervous and has taken, particularly Maduro and Cabello, to attack the opposition, decrying as hypocricy its respectful expression of sympathy for the President. It probably would be asking too much that they now suddenly acted as wise statesmen dedicated to peace and the common good, as in these 14 years they have been assigned the role of obedient attack dogs while their Master was the only one free to intelligently reason on nationwide radio and television on values such as freedom, independence, solidarity, love and beauty. Maduro did try to correct his first very aggressive statement, going as far as saying that the larger part of the opposition’s leadership had been sincere and that he “extended his hand to them”.
This shared attitude of the two new pillars of the regime is likely to be one the few things on which they agree, but for the time being none of the two is really in a position to live without the other, at least while Chávez is still President. Cabello is unlikely to ever be able to make it to the top, given that he is very unpopular even within the PSUV and has the reputation of having become immensely rich, but he does have great influence in the Armed Forces, not only because he is a former military himself and his classmates are now Generals, but also due to his well-known anti-Cuban stance.
Should Maduro, more simpático but a dogmatic marxist-leninist and Havana’s man, become President, he probably would have to dance to Cabello’s tune until he succeeds in turning around the majority with which Cabello was elected President of the National Assembly last January 5. The mandate of the President of the Assembly is renewed every year, and the incumbent can be reelected, but his term can also be cut short. If Cabello retains the Presidency of the National Assembly in early January he is likely to remain the real power behind the throne for some time, but probably not for too long if Maduro is elected to the Presidency and becomes Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces, as Head of State.
All this has been happening in the week preceding the elections for Governors to be held tomorrow, 16 December, and in which Henrique Capriles hopes to be reelected Governor of Miranda. If he is reelected he is likely to secure his second candidacy to the Presidency, or sink it, in case he loses. If he loses it is my guess one would have to look to Zulia and Bolivar and see if Pablo Perez and/or Andrés Velazquez win their elections, and probably also look at other options, but time will be of the essence and a unitary candidate will again be necessary very soon, as Maduro will be a tough candidate to beat.
What does seem clear at this time is that the dogmatic, radical revolution championed by Chávez is no longer possible. With a difference of only 10% in the last election and in a continent mainly of democratic nations, probably not even the Great Leader himself would have been able to see it through. Maduro and Cabello probably know that they will have to find an accomodation with the democratic opposition, hopefully even agree on a roadmap back to the Constitution, if stability is to be secured, urgently so in view of the economic storm brewing over the horizon.
What the 7 October election also showed is that Chávez might have succeeded in institutionalizing a clientelistic, populist system, anchored in the hearts of many, and that the PSUV could be on its way to becoming something like the Mexican PRI; not only the largest, but also the dominant political party. If, however, it were to continue to pursue its radical, totalitarian blueprint and be run by a mediocre leadership, it could also soon become much more repressive, ultimately risking its break-up and becoming a marginal player(s).In such a case, the PSUV’s transition to the fringes of politics could be a matter of years, not months. It is of the essence that the democratic opposition quickly field a unitary candidate, and that whichever side goes on to win the presidency organizes, with international assistance, a transparent transition back to the Constitution. That will only happen once the new presidencial election has been held and the new President is firmly in power. Don’t hold your breath, however, not a single medical report on the President’s illness has ever been published. President Chávez could very well return from Havana on 9 January and smilingly take the oath of office the next day.