|Fidel Castro, Hugo Chavez and |
Raul Castro in a Havana hospital room.
Since then, the normally long-winded Chavez has kept virtually silent, with the exception of one broadast, a few photos and a couple of Twitter tweets. That's all despite a huge power blackout and a deadly riot and siege at a major prison back home.
Many Venezuelans suspect Chavez has something very serious, such as cancer. But, in the best tradition of authoritarian regimes, the Venezuelan government is keeping its leader's health a secret from his people. That may be why he's being treated in Cuba, where secrets can be kept.
Most Colombians seem to dislike the leftist Chavez, who probably has aided Colombia's guerrillas. But Colombia also wants a stable Venezuela which buys Colombian exports. And if Chavez either dies or becomes incapacitated, there's no telling who will replace him. Chavez has so dominated Venezuelan politics over the past decade that there no other person in his party is waiting in the wings.
Venezuela has a presidential election coming up next year, and Chavez's health troubles and his country's many problems make it more realistic for an opposition politician succeed him - which would delight both Bogotá and Washington.
On the other hand, since Juan Manuel Santos became Colombia's president, the two nations' relations have warmed. Santos even called Chavez 'My best friend,' earning the ire of his predecessor, Alvaro Uribe.
Now, Santos's investment in his leftist neighbor may be in jeopardy.
Most likely, Chavez will recover and return to the presidency. However, if his condition is serious, this will likely prevent him from ruling until 2020 or 2030, as he has suggested and his opponents fear.
Meanwhile, Venezuelan officials are assuring their people that Chavez continues governing the country from his Havana hospital room. Venezuela's Constitution seems to say that the vice president should take over - but who cares about the letter of the law in Chavez's Venezuela.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours