President Hugo Chavez finally confirmed what everyone already knew since several weeks ago. Chavez has cancer. What a rotten break for Venezuelan democracy.
Mary O’Grady’s 27 June “Americas” column in the Wall Street Journal explains why a Chavez felled by cancer would be a very bad outcome for Venezuela:
“While conventional wisdom holds that the demise of Mr. Chávez would set Venezuela free, it may instead make the country more repressive. If there is any justice in the world, he will return to Venezuela to marinate in his own stew—the economic disaster he has created over the past 12 years. A serious illness that takes him out of play would leave Venezuela haunted by the ghost of chavismo much as Peronism has haunted Argentina for the past half-century.”
There’s another reason why an ailing Chavez is a very bad outcome for Venezuela.
Chavez until now has been the “glue” that bonds together the many political parties and groups that make up the opposition Democratic Unity Table (MUD).
MUD exists mainly because Chavez is a devastating candidate in any election.
Until now there hasn’t been anyone in the political opposition with the popular appeal, charisma and rhetorical skills needed to best Chavez in an election campaign, even with Venezuela’s economy in ruins.
There are some very promising young opposition leaders like Maria Corina Machado and Henrique Capriles Radonski, and more not mentioned here.
But now that Chavez is revealed as a sorely weakened president, the MUD’s always tenuous unity is already fraying.
The MUD’s dominant political organizations include Accion Democratica, Un Nuevo Tiempo, Copei and Primero Justicia.
The leaders of these dominant parties in the MUD until now have been among the loudest proponents of a unified candidate to be chosen in open primaries that currently are scheduled for February 2012.
The sight of a physically ailing president in coming weeks and months could encourage perceptions among many MUD leaders that Chavez is toast at the polls, no matter who runs against him.
And worse, many MUD leaders may think that if Chavez is too ill to seek re-election, whoever the PSUV fields will be defeated easily.
If the MUD’s “unity” fractures, the revolution will continue in the presidency even if the PSUV’s candidate is Elias Jaua.
Another factor in play is the moles in the MUD – the “leaders” who are in cahoots with the regime despite their public criticisms of the regime.
[AD’s Secretary General Henry Ramos Allup heads our list of moles in the MUD; he is an “opposition leader” who secretly also carries water for the regime. But there are other moles in the MUD including senior officials in AD (Felix Arroyo, for example), and also in UNT, Primero Justicia and, possibly, even Copei.]
Defense Minister General-in-Chief Carlos Mata Figueroa and General Henry Rangel Gomez, commander of the armed forces joint strategic command, have announced in the past 24 hours that the armed forces stand united in support of the president. Both know this isn’t true.
The armed forces are always a wild card in situations like this one. When Caesar weakens physically, his Praetorian commanders always entertain greater ambitions.
Several of my active and retired Venezuelan army friends reported today that many “elements” in the armed forces are evaluating the president’s speech last night.
“It’s too soon after the president’s speech to determine with any accuracy what the implications could be for the economy and for society in general,” one officer, a Colonel with an intelligence background, said.
Chavez’s speech failed if its purpose was to reassure the general public. Important questions were not answered and new questions were raised.
Does Chavez have cancer of the prostate or is it somewhere in his digestive tract? What is the prognosis? Prostate cancer usually is more treatable than digestive tract cancer, so the location of the president’s cancer matters.
When does Chavez expect to return to Venezuela? Chavez currently is absent from Venezuela illegally under the existing Constitution. Presidential power has not been transferred to Vice President Jaua in the president’s absence. And Jaua has declared that he does not want to exercise the presidency during Chavez’s absence.
Chavez speaks by telephone every day with his ministers and senior PSUV officials, Energy Minister Rafael Ramirez said this week.
But under Venezuela’s constitution, none of the president’s actions or orders made during his continued absence from the country is legal or constitutional, according to some constitutional experts.
The potential implications, if these experts are correct, must be of great concern to the managers of foreign entities that are negotiating billions of dollars in loans that the Chavez regime would repay in the future through Pdvsa with crude oil and refined products.
What if President Chavez is too ill to continue exercising the presidency until his term ends after the December 2012 elections? Who would replace him in the interim.
The Constitution says that the vice president succeeds the president if the latter becomes incapacitated. But Chavez also has the authority to appoint the vice president at whim.
Chavez could fire Jaua and replace him with…who, if not Jaua? Perhaps Diosdado Cabello? Or Ali Rodrguez Araque? Or Rafael Ramirez? Or Jorge Giordani?
Chavez has never nurtured any potential successors. He’s a one-man show, “El Comandante Presidente” for life.
In power now for almost 13 years, Chavez already was campaigning for re-election in December 2012 so that he can continue as president until end-2018, at which time he probably would seek re-election again.
Chavez has been the center of everything for 13 year. Chavez has no second-in-command figures he can delegate power to successfully, even on a temporary basis. Chavez has no recognizable successors or heirs.
There now is a power vacuum in Venezuela that will escalate or shrink in tandem with the president’s health. If Chavez bounces back quickly the power vacuum will narrow, but if the president’s malady becomes visibly more acute the power vacuum will grow larger very quickly.
The regime’s top priority now, with strong Cuban backing/encouragement, of course, is to maintain the public illusion that Chavez is recovering his health quickly and remains firmly in charge of the country.
But this fiction will become more difficult to maintain the longer that Chavez remains in Havana.