|Hugo Chavez undergoing chemotherapy.|
Tomorrow, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who's already ruled for 13 years, is to formally register his candidacy to succeed himself yet again.
Chavez has a huge lead in the polls ahead of the october election against Henrique Capriles, a young mayor whose center-right politics would likely be much more amenable to the Colombian government. Chavez's lead is not surprising, since he's been in power for so long that many young Venezuelans probably cannot recall another president. Chavez has also muzzled much of the opposition media and turned much of the government into a campaign machine, which has handed out subsidized food and gasoline and filled the airwaves and covered walls with government propaganda. And Chavez has an unquestionable charisma, which enables him to connect with his country's poor majority.
|Henrique Capriles: Venezuela's next president? |
But Chavez has a bigger opponent, which he hasn't been able to defeat using his oil money war chest: a mestazing cancer, which has him commuting to Cuba for surgery and chemotherapy sessions.
Chavez's exact condition is a state secret. His doctors have held no press conferences armed with x-rays and test results to let Venezuelans in on their president's prognosis. So, observers can only rely on the president's appearance and occasional statements, and supposed medical reports which journalists occassionally get their hands on. Recently, U.S. reporter Dan Rather and Spanish newspaper ABC published stories suggesting that Chavez may have only months to live. If that's true, then Chavez is committing a huge fraud against his supporters, who surely believe that they're electing their man to serve another six-year term. Chavez said yesterday that doctors found no sign of his cancer's reappearing - but offered no evidence of that.
If Chavez dies or cannot carry on, he can designate a replacement, altho no other figure in his United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV) has the president's charisma or popularity. But that only compounds the uncertainty for Colombia, which has to consider either continuity under Chavez, a rightward shift under Capriles or a complete unknown.
Chavez has been a somewhat erratic collaborator with Colombia's efforts against the drug trade and guerrilla groups. He has arrested and extradited several important criminal figures, but also apparently supported the guerrillas. Pres. Juan Manuel Santos has called Chavez 'My new best friend,' but his administration would undoubtedly be much happier with someone less radical running things in Caracas.
By Mike Ceaser, of Bogotá Bike Tours