by C.L. Smith
This article first appeared at Upside Down World.
Since his first electoral victory in 1998, Hugo Chávez Frias has gradually come to permeate practically every facet of Venezuelan society imaginable. Whether it is the daily polemical headlines that scream at passersby from humble newsstands, or the massive roadside billboards displaying the loquacious leader in a variety of guises, it is pretty much impossible to remain ignorant, let alone indifferent, to the omnipotent role that the former paratrooper commander occupies in the collective national psyche.
During the course of his rule, Chávez has attempted to redress the massive economic inequality that exists in this petroleum rich South American nation through a simple redistribution of oil profits to the most disenfranchised demographic in the form of extensive social programs. However, in doing so, the confrontational president has effectively drawn a line in the sand for the Venezuelan electorate over the past twelve years, with few brave citizens daring to openly occupy the middle ground.
Therefore, it came as a shock to Venezuelans of all political affiliations and loyalties this past June 30th when the normally overactive and overexposed president finally dispelled the vicious swirl of rumors surrounding his unusual disappearance from the public eye some two and a half weeks priorby admitting that he was recovering from an operation that had removed cancerous cells from his pelvic area. The news predictably generated feelings of schadenfreude amongst the more sadistic elements of the opposition, while conversely prompting legions of chavistas to openly pray and declare their love for the afflicted leader.
This was all to be expected in the event of such a revelation. What was not, however, was the apparent power vacuum left in the wake of Chávez’s unexpected convalescence in Havana. Amidst the furor of the opposition, who claimed that not only was his undisclosed absence irresponsible yet unconstitutional, the highest ranks of the ruling party PSUV presented a united front to not only their constituents, but to the outside world as well.
However, a different reality belied this perception.