Quantcast
Latest Stories

Venezuelans obsess: Will Chavez live or die?

By

Portraits of Venezuela’s independence hero Simon Bolivar, left, and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez are exhibited for sale on folding easels in Caracas, Venezuela, Friday, Dec. 28, 2012. The obsessive, circular conversations about Chavez’s health dominate family dinners, plaza chit-chats and social media sites in this country on edge since its larger-than-life leader went to Cuba for emergency cancer surgery more than two weeks ago. The man whose booming voice once dominated the airwaves for hours at a time has not been seen or heard from since.(AP Photo/Fernando Llano)

CARACAS, Venezuela — He’s getting better. He’s getting worse. He’s already dead. The whole thing is a conspiracy and he was never sick in the first place.

The obsessive, circular conversations about President Hugo Chavez’s health dominate family dinners, plaza chit-chats and social media sites in this country on edge since its larger-than-life leader went to Cuba for emergency cancer surgery more than two weeks ago. The man whose booming voice once dominated the airwaves for hours at a time has not been seen or heard from since.

His lieutenants have consistently assured Venezuelans over the last week that Chavez is slowly on the mend and will be back at the helm of the country he has dominated for 14 years. But when will he be back? Will he be well enough to govern? What type of cancer does he have? Is it terminal? If so, how long does he have to live?

Government officials have not answered any of those questions, leaving Venezuelans to their own speculations. The wildest conspiracy theories run the gamut from those who say there is no proof Chavez is even still alive to those who believe his illness is a made-up play for sympathy.

“Everything has been a mystery. Everyone believes what they want about the status of his health,” said Ismael Garcia, a leftist lawmaker who belonged to the Chavez movement until a falling-out a few years ago.

The uncertainty comes with a sense of urgency because Chavez is scheduled to be sworn in for a new six-year term Jan. 10. The government and opposition disagree on what should happen if Chavez can’t show up, raising the threat of a destabilizing legal fight. Beyond that, nobody knows if Chavez’s deputies, who have long worked under his formidable shadow, can hold the country together if he dies.

Like everything else in this fiercely divided country, what people believe usually depends on where their political loyalty lies. Chavez opponents are mostly convinced that the president has terminal cancer, has known it for a long time and should not have sought re-election in October. His most fervent supporters refuse to believe “El Comandante” will die.

“Chavez is going to live on. He is a very important man. He has transformed the world with his ideology,” said Victor Coba, a 48-year-old construction worker standing outside a Caracas church as government officials held a Mass to pray for the leader. “Anyone of us will die first before Chavez.”

Coba scurried off to a street corner where officials were handing out a book of photographs of Chavez’s recent presidential campaign. The comandante’s grinning face looked out from the cover, alongside the slogan “Chavez, the heart of my country.”

The same image looms from billboards erected all over Caracas, from freeway medians to the low-income apartment towers being built with Venezuelan oil wealth. Such services for the poor have helped Chavez maintain a core of followers despite high inflation, rampant gun violence, trash-strewn cities and other problems he has failed to fix.

For many, the attachment to Chavez borders on religious reverence. His supporters wish each other “Feliz Chavidad” rather than “Feliz Navidad,” or Merry Christmas. Government officials have started talking about Chavez like an omnipresent deity.

“Chavez is this cable car. Chavez is this great mission. The children are Chavez. The women are Chavez. The men are Chavez. We are all Chavez,” Vice President Nicolas Maduro said while inaugurating a cable car to bring people down from one of the vast slums that creep up Caracas’ hillsides. “Comandante, take care of yourself, get better and we will be waiting for you here.”

Crowds of red-clad supporters roar their approval each time Maduro reassures them. But on the streets, confusion reigns.

“People say he’s going to get better,” said Alibexi Birriel, an office manager eating at a Chinese restaurant on Christmas Day.

Her husband Richard Hernandez shook his head. “No. Most people say Chavez is going to die and that Nicolas Maduro is going to take power.”

Birriel paused, chiming in, “Well, some think this whole thing is theater and that there’s nothing wrong with him.”

Hernandez, who described himself as a Chavez supporter but “not a fanatic,” shrugged. “The opposition thinks that if Chavez died they are going to win the elections. That is not going to happen.”

There have been some official details. Chavez, 58, first underwent surgery for an unspecified type of pelvic cancer in Cuba in June 2011 and went back this month after tests had found a return of malignant cells in the same area where tumors had already been twice removed. Venezuelan officials said that following a six-hour surgery Dec. 11, Chavez suffered internal bleeding that was stanched and a respiratory infection that was being treated.

Just five months earlier, Chavez had announced he was free of cancer. But he acknowledged the seriousness of his illness earlier before flying to Cuba this month by designating Maduro as his successor and telling his supporters to vote for the vice president should new elections be necessary. Outside doctors have said that judging from the information Chavez has provided, his cancer is likely terminal, though the government has never confirmed that.

On Christmas Eve, Maduro surprised Venezuelans by saying he had spoken to Chavez by telephone and that the president was walking and exercising. With no other details, that only set off another round of furious speculation.

“I don’t think he can be standing up walking,” said Dr. Gustavo Medrano, a lung specialist at the Centro Medico hospital in Caracas. “Unless … there are a lot of lies in this and the surgery was not six hours … but something else much simpler, much simpler, maybe a half-hour operation, or two hours, something like that and that he is now recovering. That is possible.”

Chavez supporters tweeted their relief and joy. Opponents tweeted incredulity. They traded insults in the comment sections of newspaper websites. Some posters demanded to know where the proof was that the president was even still alive. Others wondered if he had ever been sick in the first place. Chavez supporters shot back that the rumor-mongering should stop.

One Chavez foe finally posted on the Ultimas Noticias newspaper website, “Bla, bla, bla … He’s getting better, he’s dying, he has nothing, he’s strong as a bull, he can’t get of bed, all the hypotheses are valid because there is no proof of anything.”

Amid the raging rumors, Chavez’s daughter, Maria Gabriela Chavez, sent out a Twitter message from Havana last week pleading for it all to stop.

“Respect for my family and especially respect for my people. Enough lies! We are with papa. ALIVE, fighting and recovering. WITH GOD,” she wrote.

Teresa Maniglia, a press officer at the presidential palace, has kept up a steady stream of cheerleading tweets.

“CHAVEZ all the time.”

That’s for sure.


Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter


Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Hugo Chavez , Venezuela




Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
Advertisement
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Opinions split on Napoles turning state witness
  3. Delfin Lee: Blame Pag-Ibig, not me
  4. Plunder complaint filed vs PNP chief, firearms office head over license delivery deal
  5. Cedric Lee’s cohort flies out of PH despite look-out order – De Lima
  6. San Juan cops fail to arrest Cedric Lee
  7. More ‘Yolanda’ bodies found
  8. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  9. Lawyer: Napoles ‘will tell all’
  10. Boy ‘sexually assaulted’ at Indonesia international school
  1. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
  2. Gigi Reyes pins blame on aide
  3. Estrada: Gigi Reyes won’t testify vs JPE
  4. Bernice Lee arrested by NBI team
  5. Enrile chief aide back in PH ‘to face charges’
  6. ‘No real progress in PH if dynasties not dismantled’
  7. Suspect in Vhong Navarro’s mauling wants to turn state witness – De Lima
  8. Reckless driver endangered lives of Aquino, entourage–report
  9. More legal woes for Cedric Lee
  10. Henares on Pacquiao bashing: I did not start this
  1. KL confirms Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 ended in Indian Ocean
  2. MRT passengers pass the hat for 6-year-old Ashley
  3. Rookie, lady cops lauded for quick response to MOA heist
  4. Malaysia averts another air tragedy; pilot lands troubled plane safely
  5. Revilla says he was joking; Lacson stands by his story
  6. Revilla ‘consulted’ Lacson on how he evaded arrest
  7. Cudia, dismissed for lying, got 99% in conduct
  8. Kim Henares needs a reprimand, says Cayetano
  9. Hammer-wielding robbers cause chaos at Philippines’ Mall of Asia
  10. Napoles spills beans on Enrile, Estrada, Revilla – De Lima
Advertisement

News

  • Palace prepared to charge its allies
  • 12 senators on Napoles ‘pork’ list, says Lacson
  • PNP chief on plunder raps: ‘Amateurish’
  • Makati readies 12-month traffic plan for Skyway 3
  • Heard on Radyo Inquirer 990AM
  • Sports

  • Mixers trim Aces, force do-or-die tiff
  • Donaire junks Garcia as coach, taps father
  • ’Bye Ginebra: No heavy heart this time
  • UAAP board tackles new rules
  • Baguio climb to decide Le Tour de Filipinas
  • Lifestyle

  • Entering the monkhood a rite of passage
  • Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  • Wanted: Beauty queen with a heart that beats for the environment
  • Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  • Life lessons I want to teach my son
  • Entertainment

  • Return of ‘Ibong Adarna’
  • Practical Phytos plans his future
  • In love … with acting
  • From prison to the peak of success
  • ‘Asedillo’ location thrives
  • Business

  • PH banks not ready for Asean integration
  • Stocks down on profit-taking
  • Banks allowed to use ‘cloud’
  • SMIC to issue P15-B bonds
  • Honda upgrades PH plant
  • Technology

  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Viber releases new design for iPhone, comes to Blackberry 10 for the first time
  • Engineers create a world of difference
  • Bam Aquino becomes Master Splinter’s son after Wiki hack
  • Mark Caguioa lambasts Ginebra teammates on Twitter
  • Opinion

  • Editorial cartoon, April 24, 2014
  • Talking to Janet
  • Respite
  • Bucket list
  • JPII in 1981: walking a tightrope
  • Global Nation

  • 19 Ukrainians, Russians, Filipinas rescued in bar raid
  • Filipinos coming home from Mideast must obtain MERS clearance – DOH
  • US Secret Service in Manila ahead of Obama visit
  • Palace thanks Estrada for successful HK mission
  • Hong Kong accepts PH apology; sanctions also lifted
  • Marketplace
    Advertisement