Hugo Chavez: Toughest battle has just begun

The Venezuelan leader who defied the West, courting Castro, Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi, and predicted to govern for more than 21 years, now says his toughest battle has just begun.

    Hugo Chavez took off his medical leave clothes - wind breaker and sweat pants that often match Fidel Castro's - and wore the military uniform once again. Hours later he made a surprise appearance in his native Venezuela.

    His health saga has had ups and downs, but especially has borne the trademark of the cold war era.

    After 24 days of absence he arrived in Caracas under total secrecy. The images provided by state TV were edited (never showing him walking up or down the stairs off the plane) and disclosed at seven in the morning.

    Doctors "and scientists" are reportedly checking the president and monitoring his health, he can not be in public appearances or give speeches for more than 30 minutes.

    But what exactly is wrong with Chavez? No one knows.

    The first communiqué read that knee surgery somehow turned into a pelvic access and then a cancerous tumour "in the pelvic area" was extracted.

    Chavez has never said himself that the tumor was encapsulated so there is the possibility, according to oncologists, that the cancer spread and a treatment like chemotherapy would be necessary.

    I was at the military parade for the bicentennial, where Venezuela's military and the newly acquired weapons from Russia were to be showcased.

    Under the scorching sun, 12,000 people waited.

    An ocean of red shirts - the colours of the socialist party, or Bolivarian revolution, which is basically Chavez's own version of socialism, and a model that has dominated the lives of Venezuelans since 1999 - waved at his picture on a giant screen.

    But what if Chavez is not around for much longer? What will happen to this military force parading before me, who will they support? What will they do?

    The uncertainty is worrying Venezuela is a key member of OPEC with more oil under its soil than any other country in the world – if you take into account the ocean of bitumen or heavy crude under its soil- and a regional power house.

    It has made alliances with countries like Iran and Libya, and subsidises through free oil the economies of Cuba Nicaragua and Bolivia.

    But after the build up to the military parade, its leader didn't show up to preside at the event, and had to deliver a speech via televised screens from the presidential palace 10km away.

    Watch my report on the Independence Day parade here: 

    Chavez says it was Castro who discovered his tumour, and now refers to him as his chief medical doctor.

    "He told me about the tumour and the tough times began. Very tough times. The second operation was quite a deep and lengthy operation, more than six hours. I just surrendered to God, to science." Chavez told supporters.

    For 20 days Venezuela hid the information from the public, and then all of a sudden stared revealing vague details.
    Many in Caracas believe that Chavez distrusts Venezuelan doctors, and went to Cuba (once known as the best place to keep a secret) to prevent the information from being leaked to the media.

    "Fidel kidnapped Chavez." was the joke among critics in Venezuela, when rumours started getting out of control in Caracas a video was released where both leaders read newspapers and showed the date on the front page to convince the skeptics of doctored pictures.

    But sooner or later the information will be leaked.

    Chavez will now get some type of treatment in Caracas' military hospital. It is still unclear if he returned home because his health was showing signs of progress or simply because he doesn't trust anyone enough to replace him.

    As France's Louis XIV once famously said "I am the state" and Chavez effectively runs Venezuela.

    Rumours suggest his vice president Elias Jaua, a hardcore Chavista, could eventually be a successor, with presidential elections right around the corner. 

    But the military is more loyal to others within the socialist party.

    While many ask what the Chavista party will look like without Chavez, I ask myself what will Venezuela look like without him.

    The socialist leader who defied the West, courting Castro, Ahmadinejad and Gaddafi, and predicted to govern for more than 21 years, now says his toughest battle has just begun.

    Twitter : @monica_vv


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