“This is historically unheard of,” says one analyst. “We’ve never before seen a political process where a term is indefinitely extended.”
“Two months have passed since Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez climbed the stairs of the presidential jet, blew kisses to his supporters and flew to Cuba to undergo his fourth cancer-related surgery,” AP reports:
Chavez hasn’t been seen or spoken publicly since that departure to Havana on Dec. 10, and the mystery surrounding his condition has deepened while the government’s updates have remained optimistic but have lately offered few specifics…..Some analysts say they expect that sooner or later, Chavez’s delicate health could make necessary a new election to replace him.
“The transition has already begun in Venezuela, and the election campaign has also begun,” said Tulio Hernandez, a professor at the Central University of Venezuela. “The transition has also begun in people’s heads. Sometimes, there are mistakes among government spokespeople, who start to speak of Chavez in the past tense.”
Some observers consider this week’s move to devalue the Venezuelan currency as an indicator that Vice President Nicolás Maduro, Chavez’s designated heir, has consolidated his support base.
“Evidently, the situation is as grave as people say, with a high fiscal deficit, liquidity problems, and lots of shortages,” said Javier Corrales, an expert on Venezuela at Amherst College. “But it also shows that the people within the Chavista movement are very committed to the government to do something as risky as this at this time.”
The move will raise the cost of imports, and Venezuela’s economy—hit by widespread nationalizations during the Chávez years—is increasingly dependent on imports.
But Mr. Naím said the devaluation would do little to solve the country’s deep seated economic problems. Among the biggest losers of the devaluation are foreign companies hoping to repatriate dollars home, he said. The Venezuelan government has held up providing dollars to many companies, and will now give them fewer dollars for their sales in local currency terms.
“We’re obviously at a crossroads,” said Oscar Valles, a political analyst and professor at the Metropolitan University in Caracas. He said that during the past two months, “it’s been hard for the predominant circle within Chavismo to articulate leadership that can begin to replace that of the president in this difficult transition.”
There have been previous cases of leaders in other countries vanishing from public view for long stretches due to health problems. Fidel Castro, for one, has appeared in public only occasionally since he fell ill in 2006 and formally stepped aside from the presidency less than two years later. In Nigeria, President Umaru Yar’Adua left the country for medical treatment in 2009 and died months later.
“I don’t think I’m exaggerating in saying that what’s happening in Venezuela is historically unheard of,” Valles said in a telephone interview. “We’ve never before seen a political process where a term is indefinitely extended.”
“When the smoke clears and the mirrors are packed away, we’ll be left with a more cash-flush government, a less cash-flush populace, and with all of the pre-existing distortions and absurdities somewhat attenuated, but very much in place,” Venezuelan blogger Francisco Toro writes at Caracas Chronicles.