Hugo Chavez was smiling all over Venezuela yesterday. The smile from a hospital bed in Cuba with his two daughters grinning beside him must have made some world leaders despair, and many others happy. Chavez’s smugness, fixated as it was on his face in the photograph that alerted the world to his purported well-being after a long treatment in his Communist backyard, was for all to see. Though hidden from public view yesterday, the Venezuelan president was beaming in posters and banners all over the South American nation.
His return after another bout with cancer came on the day another Socialist and anti-American leader got re-elected in Chavez’s neighbourhood. Rafael Correa, apparently the loudest voice in the region where Socialist governments hold fort, emerged victorious in presidential polls that will see him govern the nation for another six years. The folksy Chavez enjoys widespread popularity in a nation seen by Washington as a bulwark against its foreign policies. The former paratrooper has been hanging on to power in the Opec nation by virtue of courting the poor and doling out state welfare. Though he has largely been unable to rein in poverty, his popularity doesn’t seem to wane.
The one-man institution, that is the Socialist leader, handed power to Vice President Nicolas Maduro before proceeding for surgery in Cuba. He told Venezuelans to support Maduro. Since then, the former bus driver has followed in Chavez’s footsteps, religiously doing his bidding.
Chavez won a much-watched re-election last October — and declared himself cured. His foes made a noise that was drowned in a Supreme Court ruling that said that Chavez remained president and could be sworn in later. That the ailing Chavez virtually tiptoed into Caracas late Sunday night should not come as a surprise. He has been known to be comfortable in controversy and has created quite a few of them. Chavez loves to soak the limelight. A purportedly healthy Venezuelan president had received a famous snubbing from Spanish king Juan Carlos at a high-level forum. During his forthright talk on state radio, he used to directly answer questions from the public, often making remarks that drew chuckles.
It now seems that the days of a defiantly recalcitrant Hugo Chavez are numbered. Though it seems that he still inspires a large number of Venezuelans, his days of high popularity may be coming to an end. The world waits to see to what extent Chavez has recovered. Authoritarian leaders are known to revel in secrecy — as has Chavez in illness. No one knows the nature of his cancer and to what extent it has or not got the better of him. However resilient he might be, it would do him good to realise that health is not on his side and clinging to power is only going to worsen his plight.