Hugo Chavez cancels Latin summit as health rumors swirl

A new video has been released of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who has been in Cuba recovering from surgery. As speculation swirls about his well being, he faces serious political challenges at home.

In this photo released by the state media Cubadebate web site, Cuba's Fidel Castro, left, and Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez looked at Cuba's Granma state newspaper at an unknown location in Havana on Tuesday. Mr. Chavez underwent surgery in Cuba two weeks ago and has been unusually quiet since then. Allies of Chavez have insisted the leader is firmly in control of the country. Chavez arrived to Havana on June 8 and had surgery on June 10.

The (new) video is certainly made to convince us that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez is fine, showing him talking this time (unlike the last video released) and reading newspaper headlines as “proof of life,” but the president is certainly thinner, less energetic, and definitely recovering from something.

He disappeared for 18 days and is still not well enough to either address the nation or hold the summit to celebrate Venezuela's bicentennial next week on July 5. ...

The summit has been officially canceled, even if Chavez could still try to show up for the military parade that day. ...

What is clear is that, as I suggested a couple of days ago, Chavez has been very ill, is recovering and receiving “strict medical treatment” as stated in the press release canceling the summit.

The videos seem aimed more at a domestic audience than the rest of the world, sort of sending the message he is still around, don’t stir the pot, and follow the party line or else.

But there is no question that things will be different if Chavez’s illness is chronic or serious and will diminish his ability to campaign and/or run the country.

This changes the game.

With a Chavez with diminished popularity, the upcoming campaign already required his full attention.... If what he has is a long-term problem, not only his supporters, but his collaborators will begin questioning whether he should be the revolution’s candidate in 2012.

This in itself may result in a weaker effort by Chavez’s supporters, worried about their long-term future and stability and the possible demise of the Bolivarian Revolution.

--- Miguel Octavio, a Venezuelan, is not a fan of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. You can read his blog here.

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