Waiting for Hugo Chavez: Theatrics and a Languishing Economy
It has now been two months since Venezuela President Hugo Chavez departed Miraflores Palace (Venezuela’s White House) to undergo cancer surgery in Havana, Cuba.
Very little is known about Chavez’s health. So far the only proof of life presented by senior officials are reported visits to the hospital where Chavez is being treated and the appearance of documents said to be signed by the president. Chavez has not spoken to or been seen by the public. The government says that Chavez is making progress, but they are unable to overcome a growing presumption he will never again exercise real executive power.
Nevertheless, the show goes on in Venezuela. On February 4 (4F), Chavistas—led by heir-apparent Nicolas Maduro and Assembly President Diosdado Cabello— celebrated the “heroism” of Chavez’s failed 1992 coup d’état. Like Fidel Castro’s failed 1953 uprising against the Batista regime, political mythology has converted a day of violence—over 100 died in Chavez’s aborted coup—into a day of national dignity. To the victor belong the spoils!
Last week the Chavistas displayed an official hat as part of concerted efforts to brand permanently the cult of “El Commandante” into the minds of Venezuelans. As New York Times reporter William Neumann observed, “Even in a country where political theater of the absurd is commonplace, the great cap kerfuffle took many Venezuelans by surprise.”
Yet, the distraction of the F4 celebrations and the trivialities of the hat controversy were swiftly overshadowed by the February 8 decision to devalue Venezuela’s currency, the bolivar, by 32 percent, the first big economic decision taken in Chavez’s absence. Chavez reportedly authorized the move.
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