Why so much secrecy around Chávez's health? Venezuela's not alone.
Venezuelan officials characterized Chávez's health as 'severe' for the first time last night. From dictators to leaders of Western democracies, secrecy around health concerns is often the norm.
In Pictures Venezuela after Chavez
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But the announcement Thursday night is unlikely to put an end to the rumor mill that has swirled in the past three weeks in the Andean country.
While everyone is worked up over President Chávez's health status, his administration is not necessarily an anomaly in keeping relatively mum. From dictators who are unable to envision their countries without them at the helm, to leaders of western democracies who attempt to pursue political projects despite medical setbacks, secrecy is often the norm.
“It is a long-standing pattern,” says Jerrold Post, who co-wrote "When Illness Strikes the Leader: The Dilemma of the Captive King" and is director of the political psychology program at George Washington University.
'Tell us the truth'
Norm or not, the lack of news has kept people talking. Type in #DiganLaVerdadSobreChavez, or #TellUsTheTruthAboutChavez, and the trending Twitter topic reveals the state of speculation that has become the state of Venezuela since Chávez traveled to Havana for treatment last month.
No one has heard from him since.
He’s fine. He’s dead. He’s in a coma. He’s on life support. He’s recovering. You name it – any scenario you wish to believe has been posited. And that’s largely because no one knows. Since Chávez first announced he was ill, in 2011, no medical report has detailed exactly what he faces or what his prognosis is. The government has said that it is keeping the public informed of his health status, as the president himself wishes, but in reality their reports have raised more questions than answers, even as they accuse the opposition of spreading rumors in a form of “psychological war.”
The opposition, for their part, is outraged, demanding more specificity, that the Venezuelan people be told the “whole truth” of the status of the country’s leader.
What does secrecy tell us?
From former US presidents Ronald Reagan to Franklin Roosevelt, the states of health of leaders was carefully curated by administrations. In one oft-cited case, French President Francois Mitterrand hid his cancer diagnosis from the public for over a decade before being forced to step down. “Yet every year the doctor dutifully said he was in fine health,” says Dr. Post.