No sooner than a week after an opposition candidate was selected with greater-than-expected turnout in the opposition primary, we learned earlier this week that Venezuela president Hugo Chávez will return to Cuba Friday afternoon for surgery early next week, concerning a new lesion that he admits may well be malignant, coming just a year after cancer treatments and ongoing angst about the health of the cancer-stricken president.
With a fairly popular and united opposition candidate in Henrique Capriles giving Chávez his toughest contest in perhaps the entirety of his 13-year reign as president, Chávez’s health becomes the central issue for the foreseeable future in the election battle, with Chávez to be in Cuba for treatment and recovery for weeks thereafter.
The change of events leaves more questions than answers:
- First and foremost, is Chávez’s cancer curable or terminal?
- If Chávez’s cancer is terminal, will he provide that information to the public?
- Will Chávez turn over the reigns of power to a successor to lead the Partido Socialista Unido de Venezuela (PSUV) into October’s election? If so, will Chávez do so early enough to provide any successor the sufficient time to act as president?
- If Chávez returns and runs for reelection, to what extent will Chávez’s cancer remain problematic in projecting a president who retains the virility and strength to govern Venezuela? Will Chávez’s cancer lead to a sympathy effect, thereby actually helping him in the campaign?
- Given the sometimes less-than-democratic norms of Venuzuela, will the more reactionary elements among the right and in the military use Chávez’s absence to stage a coup to take control of the government?
- So far, the Capriles campaign has been exceedingly kind to Chávez, wishing him a speedy recovery (less than a week after Chávez called him a pig!), but how does Capriles navigate a highly contentious political campaign while Chávez is being treated?
- Although he says it will not be necessary to take over the reins of government in Chávez’s absence, what do we know about Venezuelan Vice President Elías Jaua?
- Even if Chávez makes it through cancer and through October’s election, is there a future for chavismo without Chávez?