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Venezuela without Chávez?

SANTA MARTA, COLOMBIA – Like all cancer patients, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez faces three scenarios: a quick cure, prolonged treatment, or an early death. Whichever way it goes – even if Chávez really is recovering as quickly as he would have us believe – talk in Venezuela about the post-Chávez era has already begun.

Chávez manages information about his illness and treatment as part of a political strategy. After his surgery, invoking God, Fidel Castro, the spirits of the savannah, and medical science, he responded to rumors about his illness and made his return from treatment in Havana a double celebration of Venezuela’s bicentennial and of his triumph over cancer.

Chávez is a master at manipulating the media: after the failed coup against him in 2002, he brandished a crucifix to pardon his adversaries and be pardoned by them. After his first chemotherapy session, Chávez exclaimed: “I am radically changing my life.”

Thus far, changes are noticeable in his appearance and slogans, and a certain self-criticism has crept into his public persona. On his 57th birthday, he wore yellow instead of red, and substituted “Socialist homeland or death” with “We will live and we will win.” He told his movement: “Those people who dress in red down to their underwear are suspect, and the same goes for the word ‘socialism.’ We have to reflect and introduce changes into our discourse and our actions.” And he admitted to Venezuelan television that a “lack of efficiency in everyday routine…has endangered the government’s policies many times.”