Venezuela Has Become a Place of Great Change but Little Hope

May 8th, 2012

By Dan Miller

frogs_heatEl Presidente Chávez is probably dying and Fidel Castro has warned about blood (not Chávez’ blood) in the streets. He may well be right, for the wrong reasons.

Venezuela became a mess, gradually, after el Presidente Chávez took over the government in 1999. Change came slowly for a few years but eventually the pace accelerated; although spluttering off in different directions, that acceleration continues. As I noted here,

Chávez’ initiatives increased dramatically in number and in magnitude only when he was well into his seemingly endless terms in office. Maybe he had heard the story of the frog put into a pleasantly warm but slowly heating pot of water. The frog failed to realize until too late that he was being boiled for dinner. By then the frog had become unable to jump out of the pot.

The article linked above summarizes how el Presidente consolidated power to the point that his control over all mechanisms of governance became complete, albeit generously shared with Cuba. Unlike his power over things governmental, however, his power over his own body is limited and that seems to be the controlling force now.

chavez_weptWhen it was strongly rumored that Chávez had a serious cancer problem he denied it vigorously and chastised as liars those from the disloyal anti-Venezuelan political opposition who had said so. He finally acknowledged that he had had cancer but that, due to fatherly advice from el comandante Castro and the advanced medical competence el comandante had brought to Cuba, he had been cured and was cancer free. Then, he found it necessary to make multiple visits to Cuba for chemotherapy and later for radiotherapy.

He keeps going and coming back, briefly.

During a public spectacle mass in early April of this year while on a brief visit to Venezuela, he

wept and asked God to spare his life during a pre-Easter Mass after returning from his latest session of cancer treatment in Cuba. …

He says the latest surgery was successful, that he is recovering well and will be fit to win a new six-year term at an election in October. Yet big questions remain about his future, and on Thursday the strain appeared to show.

In a televised speech to the Catholic service in his home state of Barinas Thursday, Chavez cried and his voice broke as he eulogized Jesus, revolutionary fighter Ernesto “Che” Guevara and South American independence hero Simon Bolivar.

“Never forget that we are the children of giants … I could not avoid some tears,” the former soldier said, his parents and other relatives looking on from the church rows.

“Give me your crown, Jesus. Give me your cross, your thorns so that I may bleed. But give me life, because I have more to do to for this country and these people. Do not take me yet,” Chavez added, standing below an image of Jesus with the Crucifix. (stricken to added).

Perhaps he has found his God.

Chavez’s voice cracked with emotion as he bade farewell to aides and supporters in Caracas on April 30 before leaving for what he said would be his final round of cancer treatment in Cuba.

“I’m sure our Christ will do it again, continuing making the miracle,” Chavez said as he raised his cross to his lips and kissed it, prompting applause from an audience of aides.

If Chavez survives cancer, political analysts say his increasing religiosity could pay election-year dividends in a country where Catholicism remains influential.

“Given that he cannot hide the illness, but he can hide its characteristics and danger, he’s decided to take as much advantage of it as he can, and one advantage is the symbolic and religious issue,” said Luis Vicente Leon, a Venezuelan pollster and analyst. “He’ll present himself as the chosen one, the man who has been cured and healed by the Lord to continue governing the country.” …

“I have great faith in what we’re doing, in this intense undertaking against the illness that ambushed me last year, and I have faith, I repeat, in God,” said Chavez, who looked pale and bloated.

“It’s like a pact with God, with Christ my Lord,” Chavez said. “I’m sure he will lay on a hand so that this treatment, which we’re rigorously following, will have supreme success.” (Emphasis added.)

Currently he is back in Cuba seeking additional fatherly advice from el comandante, and now presumably from Jesus as well, along with the blessings of Cuban medicine. The Venezuelan bond market is rallying in anticipation of his death.

Debt traders are bidding up the bonds of state-owned Petroleos de Venezuela SA as they envision a nation without President Hugo Chavez that may free the oil producer from a tax rate as high as 95 percent.

The Venezuelan stock market has also been up and the “Market Index is now up 135.61% for the year to date.”

According to Press TV, Chávez now needs a wheelchair because of a “fracture in his femur” suffered during radiotherapy in Cuba. Quite possibly misdirected or excessive doses of radiation damaged some of his bones. Or perhaps the cancer of which he had been cured, having failed to hear that he had been cured, metastasized into his bones and weakened them.

US-based Venezuelan Doctor Jose Marquina, who reportedly has access to Chavez’s medical records, has also claimed that Chavez’s “incurable disease is a very aggressive cancer that is progressing very quickly.”

Chavez this week established a new Council of State, intended to act as an advisory committee, which has fueled rumors about his deteriorating health conditions.

Roger Noriega, a writer who has generally been correct or nearly so in his assessments of Chávez’ medical condition, claims that

When an imperious bully like Fidel Castro starts to fear, his instinct is to try to sow fear among his enemies. Today, with his student and benefactor, Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez, dying of cancer, what the Cuban dictator fears most is that his bankrupt regime in Havana is about to lose billions in critical aid and oil.

So, in an April 27 essay entitled, What Obama Knows, Castro conjures a “river of blood” in Venezuela if the Chavista movement is forced from power by the “oligarchy” or “overthrown” by the United States.

Neither the United States nor the “oligarchy,” a fragmented Venezuelan opposition with few means at its disposal, is likely even to attempt violently to overthrow Chávez.

It would come as a surprise to President Obama that he is advocating the overthrow of the Chávez government. The passive policy of the U.S. government is to maintain commercial relations with that country and to wish the Venezuelan people well. What has Castro so alarmed is the intensified effort of U.S. law enforcement — primarily the Drug Enforcement Administration and Department of the Treasury — to hold officials of the Chávez regime accountable for their complicity with drug trafficking and terrorism.

It is extraordinary, to say the least, that targeting drug kingpins in Venezuela is perceived as aggression against the government in Caracas. But that is an indictment of the senior leadership of the Chavista regime, hardly the fault of U.S. policy. (Emphasis added.)

That targeting drug kingpins is seen as aggression against the Venezuelan Government is hardly surprising; they have increasingly become leading figures in government and Chávez’ strongest allies.

If and when Chávez dies or otherwise becomes too incapacitated to govern or even to seek reelection, and if and when that becomes generally known — they may not happen simultaneously — what will happen?

Takeover of the state by a group of interdependent Chavistas?

With or without violence?

With or without Chávez’ blessing?

Emergence of a single Chavista head of state and the elimination of all rivals?

With or without violence?

With or without Chávez’ blessing?

Fair and peaceful elections?

The possibilities are listed above in the order of probability that I consider most likely. What does this sentence mean in Chávez’ radio broadcast on May 7th from Cuba announcing that he will soon return to Venezuela?

We have to keep strengthening our leadership, and… when I say leadership it’s not only the leadership I exercise, but rather collective leadership.(Emphasis added.)

In any event, something appears to be happening.

— In Chavez’ absence, the financial part of the Government is sitting there doing nothing. Giordani does not listen to Jaua, Merentes is ignored. The Central Bank needs a bond issue of either PDVSA or Venezuela bonds to supply its SITME foreign exchange system, but absent the All Mighty, nobody dares make the decision and he has paid little attention to the matter.

— Reporters in Caracas are seeing more contacts from high Government officials, curiously all of those with Presidential aspirations, than they have seen in thirteen years. Jaua sends half a dozen press releases every day, Ramirez has been calling reporters that he blacklisted in the past, Jorge Rodriguez thinks he could be anointed successor, while Diosdado has become the traveling President of the National assembly. Even Aristobulo has shown some interest. Only Maduro has been quiet on that front, which may mean absolutely nothing no matter what Bocaranda may say.

— After talking to many people, I came away with a feeling that Chavez may name a new Vice-President, Jaua is simply not liked, but he will not name a successor any time soon. This is better for the opposition and a very dangerous game for the revolution. If Chavez is not seen in public designating someone as the the heir to his revolutionary ideals, there will be a fight to death among various Chavista factions.

Is Chávez’ control over the Venezuelan press diminishing? How about that of his underlings seeking preeminence for themselves?

At least one thing has become clear: Chávez and his once merry band are economical with the truth. In 2008 P.J. O’Rourke said of France,

France is a treasure to mankind. French ideas, French beliefs, and French actions form a sort of loadstone for humanity. Because a moral compass needle needs a butt end. Whatever direction France is pointing in—toward Nazi collaboration, Communism, existentialism, Jerry Lewis movies, or President Sarkozy’s personal life—you can go the other way with a clear conscience.

The Chavista government is much the same although far worse because no matter what it may say it is prudent to consider the opposite as more likely accurate. The problem is that aside from simple statements such as “I do not have cancer,” there is no single opposite; there are many contradictory possibilities from which to choose and each has multiple permutations.

A well known principle of physics manifests itself in these circumstances: Nature abhors a vacuum. When sufficient lies and half-truths are told to shield the people from unpleasant reality and the truth is concealed, speculation fills the vacuum. That process is rampant in Venezuela. Incredible though it may seem, contemporary examples of that process can be found even in the United States.

(This article was also posted at Dan Miller’s Blog.)

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