Where is Hugo Chavez?

Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has been recovering from an operation in Cuba, but his absence is reminiscent of Fidel Castro's illness in 2006 that eventually caused him to step down.

Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, an avid tweeter whose speeches routinely go on for hours, has barely communicated in public since a June 10 operation in Cuba that has become increasingly shrouded in mystery and speculation as the days have gone by. At left, Chavez (R) is visited by Cuba's revolutionary leader Fidel Castro at a hospital in Havana in this June 17, 2011 handout file photo.

While most people are talking about President Chavez's absence since his operation in Cuba on June 10, the problems began way before that. This blog first noted Mr. Chavez’ absence and more suspiciously, his silence, on May 29.

But the whole story really started on May 9, when Chavez called TV Network VTV and said he had to cancel his trip to Brazil, Cuba, and Ecuador. Chavez said at the time that that he had an inflamed knee, that he had gone running that day and it got worse and that he had to cancel the trip. He did not appear on the media to make the announcement.

Two days later, on May 12, via his Twitter account @chavezcandanga, Chavez said that he had a problem with his senovial fluid and that the doctors were recommending an astroscopic procedure. For the next two weeks, mostly via Twitter, Chavez reported improvements, said he was treating his knee with a “magical herb” Evo Morales gave him, that it was going to be a very slow recovery for his taste, but it was not until May 22 that he made a public appearance, saying that his knee was still in bad shape. During this time the US announced the sanctions against the state oil company PDVSA and Chavez said nothing publicly about them.

Then, Chavez announced on June 2 that he would visit Brazil, and as he met with former Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva in private on June 5 he said he would cancel his Sunday program Alo Presidente for the fifth week in a row, this time in order to have time to prepare for the trip. He did go to Brazil and from there to Cuba.

Then, on June 10, while in Cuba, it was announced that he had an operation there for a “pelvic abscess." On June 11, the next day, Chavez called TV network Telesur and used the word “malignant,” saying “there is nothing malignant, there is no infection."

Since then, there has been total silence. Cuban newspaper Gramma distributed this picture of the Castro brothers visiting him (see original blog), which some claim is a photoshop version of those taken during a visit last December.

This Friday is a national holiday in Venezuela and some expected Chavez to reappear, but the military parade in Carabobo is likely to be cancelled. And I am told the one on July 5 for Independnce Day will also be canceled.

Meanwhile, Chavez’ five-day permit to be absent from the country has expired, the vice president has not been appointed to serve for him in the meantime, which is what the constitution says should have been done. The vice president, unloved within his party, says critics want him to commit treason. Funny that following the constitution can be considered “treason.”

And the mystery continues. Our take: Hugo is very sick, with what I am told is something debilitating but not fatal, but his ability to run a campaign is being put into question. There may be crazy jockeying and conspiring going on in Caracas, Havana, and Chavez's party, the PSUV, but somehow the opposition has not focused on the illegalities and contradictions of the situation.

Meanwhile it has been 43 days since the first knee problem and 13 days since the operation in Cuba, 12 since we last heard from the once loquacious Constitutional President of Venezuela… and counting….

(Chavez’ brother says it will be 10 to 12 days before Chavez returns, that is a three week convalescence for a relatively young man. It must not be something simple.)

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

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