If the rhetoric coming out of Caracas is an accurate indicator, Hugo Chavez may actually be at death’s door. Speaking to supporters outside of the chapel of the Military Hospital Carlos Arvelo after Friday’s mass, vice president Nicolas Maduro, who has been singled out by Chavez as the person he’d most like to succeed him, said that the president is “fighting for his life” and is undergoing “tougher” new treatments for his cancer, including chemotherapy.According to the Venezuelan constitution, should Chavez die, either Maduro or National Assembly leader Diosdado Cabello would become the president for 30 days until elections are called. (For more on the exceedingly complex constitutional questions regarding succession, see this article in The Atlantic.) If it ends up being Maduro, the paranoid tone of some of his other remarks on Friday—straight out of the Chavez playbook—foreshadow the kind of rhetoric we can look forward to if and when these elections come to pass:
Chavez’s No. 2 urged Venezuelans to be on the guard against “rumor-mongers” and “destabilizers,” saying right-wing politicians in the United States were in league with Venezuela’s opposition to spread lies about his boss.
As before, we make no concrete predictions as to how this will all play out—apart from that it will likely be a bumpy ride for Venezuela. Chavez has simply not managed to dominate the country as Castro has in Cuba. Maduro may have his boss’s blessing to carry on his work, but it’s not clear how strong his hold is on the reins of power. And though often harassed, the opposition is still a political force to be reckoned with.But even if the opposition prevails in the elections, the challenges ahead for Venezuela should not be underestimated. It will take a gifted, farsighted leader to right the ship that Chavez has worked so hard to scuttle.[Photo of Nicolas Maduro, from Wikipedia.]Edits regarding succession question. Thanks to alert reader @ENouelV.