An unusually reflective Hugo Chavez disclosed recently that his cancer has apparently returned, conceding that this forces the Venezuelan strongman to “rethink my personal agenda.” The turn of events, although not totally unexpected, casts a shadow over Venezuela’s political future and the upcoming presidential elections.
Even before the latest development, Chavez’s henchmen had turned their rhetorical guns against his main opponent in this year’s presidential elections, Henrique Capriles Radonski.
A Chavez propagandist denounced Capriles as the embodiment of Zionism and disparaged this as “an ideology of terror.”
The disclosure of Chavez’s cancer recurrence will no doubt raise the profile of Capriles even higher as someone who can carry the banner of democracy to victory in October. For once, the opposition has united behind a single figure, Capriles, who wants to restore Venezuela’s institutions and end the chaos, mismanagement and dead-end policies of Chavez.
The international community cannot look the other way. Venezuela’s friends, including the U.S. and the Organization of American States, should denounce the scurrilous campaign against Capriles.
The key to what happens next may lie with Venezuela’s military, the ultimate guarantors of democracy. Mr. Chavez has done his best to indoctrinate the armed forces, but many believe it is not blindly pro-Chavez, at least not yet.
The military would become even more important in any non-Chavez scenario. The generals should be reminded that they owe their allegiance to the nation, not to Chavez, to safeguard the country’s democratic tradition.
The Miami Herald (March 1)