The Good, Bad, Worse and Worst News from Venezuela
The good news is that el Presidente Chávez of Venezuela is reported to have only a fifty percent chance of living another eighteen months.
Doctors treating Venezuelan leader Hugo Chávez for cancer told him weeks ago that he has only a 50 percent chance of living another 18 months, according to sources close to his medical team in Cuba. Members of Chávez’s inner circle are scrambling now to ensure a succession of power to the leader’s older brother, Adán.
The bad news is that if that is true, he has only a fifty percent change of dying within eighteen months.
The worse news is that the uncertainty is perpetuating chaos in Venezuela.
With the ailing dictator off the political stage for at least two months, civic leaders can jumpstart a transition by laying out a constructive plan for addressing the country’s growing crises. This task is even more urgent, because regime insiders have begun to quietly mobilize their campaign team in case they need to ambush the opposition by rushing to presidential elections, which are now set for December 2012.
The regime’s communication team is taking care to appear transparent, although they are consciously withholding information to keep the opposition guessing about Chávez’s condition and recovery. They also are encouraging Chavista ministers — who usually labor ineffectively in their boss’ shadow — to provoke the opposition, stoke social division, and appear to be problem-solvers. However, all the slogans and stagecraft do not compensate for the fact that their leader may lose his battle with cancer very soon.
Behind the scenes, Chavistas are desperate to engineer a smooth succession to keep power and evade accountability. If Chávez dies, Vice President Elias Juau may be able to hold things together temporarily. Adán Chávez is his brother’s choice. He has the confidence of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro and two key narcogenerals, Defense Minister Henry Rangel-Silva and military intelligence director Hugo Carvajal. He also is able to tame a powerful cadre of corrupt cronies (including former vice president Diosdado Cabello and minister Jesse Chacón).
The worst news is that the opposition, significant principals in which are in jail or in exile, is so fragmented that it may well not be able to do much useful to take over from the Chavistas.
Polls prepared for the palace’s internal use and others published in the media show that Miranda province governor Henrique Capriles Radonski was extraordinarily popular in his own province and emerging as a popular national alternative to Chavismo. Capriles has managed to cut into Chávez’s base by governing well and by reaching out to the very poor who depend on the regime’s generosity.
Concerned that Capriles might gain strength in Chávez’s absence, the regime recently threatened to disqualify his candidacy by inventing corruption charges. The recent sentencing of the respected opposition figure, Oswaldo Alvarez Paz, to a two-year prison term on trumped charges is another sign of the regime’s ruthless determination.
I do wonder whether the opposition would in any event be able to wage an effective campaign, whenever the next election is held, due to the Chavista control over the media and Cuban control over the Chavistas; Chávez recently referred to Cuba as " "la patria grande" (the enlarged fatherland?)." There is also the problem of whether the opposition can campaign against the rampant Chavista abuses of the people -- soaring crime, a perverted justice system, grossly inadequate medical care, high prices for frequently unavailable essentials, systemic corruption, incompetence and all the rest -- without stimulating sympathy for the plight of a dead or dying dictator.