March 9, 2014
Power vacuum in Venezuela
For The Herald
By Carolina Barros, Herald staff.There’s no such thing as “Chavism” without Hugo Chávez. That’s the conclusion which emerges from a 20-day power vacuum in Venezuela with an ailing Chávez stuck in Havana, a dearth of medical bulletins and a storm of rumours as to his critical state of health in their place. And with no heir on the horizon.
In this crisis, nobody has picked up the baton at government house in Miraflores. Least of all his nominal backup Vice-President Elias Jaua, who responded with a resounding “no” when Congress wished to place him at the helm in a caretaker capacity. An expectant administration is frozen — not a single member of the Venezuelan government dares to step up and assume power and responsibility, petrified by the track record of vendettas and counter-attacks from the “comandante” every time one of his cadres showed their heads above the surface. Just ask Diosdado Cabello and Jesús Urdaneta — if at one time they fancied themselves close to the top, Chávez snatched away that dream before they could get too big for their boots.
Meanwhile much can be read into the fact that it was Foreign Minister Nicolás Maduro who gave the most official (and indeed officious) of all the “bulletins” issued so far by the hospitalized Chávez administration.
“The battle which President Chávez is fighting for his health has to be everybody’s battle, a battle for life and the immediate future of our Fatherland,” said Maduro.
Apart from the medical bulletin of “gravely ill” transmitted by the foreign minister (who has been pressed into service as a presidential spokesman travelling to and fro to see Chávez in Cuba), sources attached to the Caracas administration have told the Herald that military top brass are closing ranks as never before around the ailing comandante. And that Maduro and Energy Minister Rafael Ramírez (also the president of PDVSA state oil company) are this reinforced Pretorian guard’s two spearheads within the government.
Another key nugget of information — the Military Hospital in Caracas is preparing for the strongman’s arrival. For a couple of days now it has not been taking in any patients and has suspended public visiting hours in order to revamp the presidential suite. Around noon yesterday the rumour began to spread that Chávez would be arriving from Havana this coming Thursday in order to be safely installed in the Caracas hospital in time for national day festivities on July 5 the following Thursday. What is open to doubt is whether the ailing president will have the strength to preside his latest international creation — the First Latin American and Caribbean Summit due to be inaugurated that same Thursday (July 5) on Margarita island. All the presidents and foreign ministers of Latin America are being invited to this forum — a kind of Organization of American States (OAS) without the United States or an anti-OAS, so to speak. But the uncertainty is such that the delegations are reserving their accommodation and transport for both Margarita and Caracas while expecting last-minute cancellation of the event at the same time.
Yet another nugget — three days ago an aeroplane of the Bolivarian Air Force crossed over to Cuba carrying Rosinés, the favourite daughter of Hugo Chávez, along with his mother and his ex-wife Marisabel Rodríguez to be at the sick-bed. This unofficial information contributes yet further to the scenario of a gravely ill Venezuelan president.
Finally, all the various rumours — that he has a terminal prostate condition which is difficult or impossible to access for surgical removal or that he is suffering from cancer of the colon or an aggravated septicaemia — are speculation which could be banished by a simple medical bulletin from a professional source. What cannot be hidden is the reality. During over 12 years of government Chávez has been absent from Venezuela for more than 20 days at a time on international tours on various occasions. But every time he ruled from the airways via national broadcast transmissions.
This is the first time, with Chávez hors de combat, that Venezuela faces a silent battle against a power vacuum. A battle which freezes up over the questions concerning the succession and whether his apparently shopworn movement has a future. Meanwhile a divided opposition is also seized up while the Armed Forces, lined up behind their commander-in-chief Lieutenant-Colonel Hugo Chávez, is also motionless. For now.