Concern is on the rise for Venezuela's President Hugo Chávez as reports from Cuba indicate that his fight with a "severe" lung infection following recent cancer surgery there is serious.
An official government announcement Friday, delivered by the country's minister of information Ernesto Villegas, said: "Comandante Chávez has faced complications as a result of a severe lung infection. This infection has caused a breathing insufficiency that requires Comandante Chávez to comply strictly with medical treatment."
No further details were given.
Leaders of his government gathered in Havana on Thursday to be at Chávez's bedside, which sparked broad media speculation that that ailing president—who is set to begin his fourth term on January 10th—may be close to the end.
As The Guardian reports:
Diosdado Cabello, the president of the National Assembly, and Chávez's brother Adan, a regional governor, joined the vice-president, Nicolas Maduro, in Havana where Chávez underwent surgery three weeks ago.
Maduro described Chávez's health as "delicate" after reporting on New Year's Eve that the oil-rich nation's leader had suffered a new complication from a respiratory infection.
International speculation followed the news, with many wondering openly what a transition would look like in Venezuela if Chávez does not live to be re-sworn in as president on the 10th. If he does, Chávez will be allowed to appoint a new president if his health once again deteriorates. He has already told the nation that his hand-picked choice will be his long-serving vice-president and confidante, Nicolas Maduro.
However, if Chávez does not survive, the constitution stipulates that a new special election must be held.
Either way, say experts, Maduro will likely succeed Chávez due to the popularity of their party's policies and the deep affection and support a majority of Venezuelans have for the Bolivarian Socialist Revolution that was ushered in under Chávez.
As Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Studies, writes today at the New York Times:
Hugo Chávez and his party recently won 13 of 14 local elections mainly because they greatly improved the living standards of the majority of voters in Venezuela. Since 2004, after the economy recovered from the devastating opposition oil strike, poverty has been cut by half and extreme poverty by more than 70 percent.
And this measures only cash income: millions of people also got access to health care for the first time, and access to education also increased sharply, with college enrollment doubling and free tuition for many. Eligibility for public pensions tripled; and in the past two years the government has built hundreds of thousands of houses. Most of the poverty reduction came from increased employment, not “government handouts,” and during most of Chávez’s tenure the private sector has grown faster than the public sector. These numbers are not really in dispute among economists or international statistical agencies. If you follow Venezuela and haven’t heard any of this, it’s because the news media is giving you the equivalent of a “tea party” view of the country.
Also, the 20 years prior to Chávez were an economic disaster, with per capita income actually falling between 1980 and 1998. So naturally most people have noticed the difference. Is this progress sustainable? The press focuses on Venezuela’s inflation, which, at just under 18 percent is about the highest in the region. However it has come down from 28.2 percent in 2010, even as the economy has recovered and growth has accelerated. This shows that the government can bring inflation down with the right policies. Chávez’s party won in 20 of 23 states during a regional election on Dec. 16, even with Chávez himself absent from the campaign trail. This indicates that his successor will likely win if he should step down.
This should not be surprising. All of the left-leaning governments in South America -- Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Bolivia and Uruguay -- have been re-elected, some repeatedly, for similar reasons: they have brought real economic and social change and significant improvements in living standards for the majority.