Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Cult of Hugo Chávez Comes Crashing Down, Ignominiously

Cuba's state media tightly controls information on the health of Venezuelan leader Hugo Chavez, but time is running out, for both his life and his cult of personality.

IBD has a must-read report on the foolish political choice Chavez made to seek cancer treatment in Cuba rather than Brazil, which boasts world-class medicine in oncology. See: "Hugo Chavez Hit By Cuba's Surgical Strike."

And on the personality cult, see the New York Times, "With Chávez Ill and State in Flux, Videos Offer an Image of Stability":
CARACAS, Venezuela — They run around the clock on state television, highly polished videos of President Hugo Chávez hugging children, kissing grandmothers, playing baseball and reciting poetry. As supporters around the world hold up hand-lettered signs that say, “I Am Chávez,” the president’s voice is heard in one of them shouting, “I demand absolute loyalty because I am not me, I am not an individual, I am a people!”

In reality, officials say, Mr. Chávez lies in a Cuban hospital bed, struggling through complications from cancer surgery while his country heads toward a constitutional showdown over his absence.

Mr. Chávez’s fragile health has thrown Venezuela into political uncertainty. After being re-elected in October, he is supposed to be sworn in for the start of his new term on Thursday, but the charismatic leader who has dominated every aspect of government here for 14 years may be too ill to return in time, much less continue in office for the next six years. Top government officials insist that the swearing-in is just a formality. The opposition, meanwhile, says the Constitution requires that Mr. Chávez be present or, in his absence, that a process begin that could lead to new elections.

The government’s television barrage seems intent on reassuring loyalists — and anyone who might raise questions — that Mr. Chávez is still very much the head of the nation. By keeping his image front and center, analysts say, the government can bolster its position as the caretaker of his legacy, mobilize its supporters for the battle over interpreting the Constitution and build momentum for itself in elections should Mr. Chávez die or prove too sick to govern.

“They have combined the mechanisms of left-wing struggle with the best marketing team there is,” said J. J. Rendón, a political consultant who opposes the government.

He compared the saga over Mr. Chávez’s illness to a telenovela, one of the popular Latin American soap operas, with its unexpected plot twists that keep viewers on edge. “They are always prepared for different scenarios,” he said of the government.