By Jordi Miró
Rumors and uncertainty are spreading through Venezuela following President Hugo Chávez’s absence from public life for the past three weeks. Chávez earlier had announced he would travel to Cuba for further cancer treatment. He hasn’t been seen by most Venezuelans since Nov. 15.
“It’s very strange that since he won the election, [Chávez] hasn’t gone out in public, and that’s what has me doubting about his health,” Gladys Balsán, a 22-year-old music student, told AFP in the center of Caracas. Chávez was re-elected on Oct. 7.
A few meters away, Yomaira Soto, 46, carries a shopping bag and offers a different opinion on the whereabouts of her country’s leader: “[Chávez] is resting and doing his medical examinations. If his condition was bad, he wouldn’t have had the energy for a campaign and for everything he did during the elections.”
On June 30, 2011, Chávez announced from Havana, Cuba, that he had cancer, although he didn’t elaborate on the details. Since then, each time he travels to the Caribbean country for chemotherapy or other treatments, the streets of Venezuela and social media networks buzz with opinions and rumors about the Venezuelan leader’s health.
Sociologist Ignacio Ávalos said that Venezuelans have grown accustomed to the fact that “Chávez’s health is a state secret,” and “the president or his aids” report what they feel is “prudent to report, which is always limited information.”
Last week, the 58-year-old president, who in July said he was completely free of cancer, returned to Cuba for an unreported period of time after requesting authorization from the National Assembly to receive hyperbaric oxygen therapy.
But this time, unlike his previous trips to the island, there was no farewell discourse before he boarded the airplane, no messages sent via Twitter and no press photos snapped.
The official newspaper Granma did publish a statement upon Chávez’s arrival in Havana, and several government officials have said the leader is in good health.
Chávez “is undergoing therapy to improve his health. The president is doing very well … and he’ll return much stronger to continue the task of leading the country,” Vice President Nicolás Maduro said.
Opposition leader and former presidential candidate Henrique Capriles called for more “transparency” in regards to the details of the president’s health, in order to avoid a “wave of speculation.”
Writer Alberto Barrera Tyszka, who penned “Hugo Chávez sin uniforme” (“Hugo Chávez without the uniform”), wrote Sunday in the daily El Nacional that with the president’s latest trip, “the enigma of Chávez’s health has once again transformed into an industry of murmuring.”
“It’s been said that [Chávez] will never fully recover, and that his body is now paying the price for the electoral campaign. At the same time, it’s being said that he was cured, but after the elections a tumor reappeared on his hip,” Barrera wrote.
Regional elections take place on Dec. 16, and Chávez had actively participated in the previous regional round in 2008, something that’s not likely going to happen this year, analysts said. The president also likely will miss a meeting of South American leaders this Thursday and Friday in Brasilia, despite previous statements that he would attend.