I was hiking up the Avila (the emblematic mountain in the middle of Caracas where locals go for exercise on Sundays), when I ran into Mirando State Governor Henrique Capriles, the man who came close, though not close enough, to beating President Hugo Chavez in last October’s elections.
“Just getting some exercise,” he said, agreeing with me that it reduces stress.
Although Capriles looked relaxed, the truth of the matter is that with every passing day, uncertainty and anxiety about Venezuela’s political future grows, impacting both the ailing President’s friends and foes.
State TV is running continuous spots paying tribute to Chavez, or airing concerts in solidarity with the President, or masses to pray for him. It is impossible to forget for more than a very short while that the bigger than life leader is gravely ill.
And absent. It has been more than five weeks since Venezuelans have seen or heard from him, even in a photograph.
Still, after six days no news, on Sunday night the government did issue a new health bulletin stating that President Chavez remains in ‘delicate condition’ but that he is ‘conscious’ and ‘in communication with his family, political team and medical team’.
His respiratory infection is now under control, but measures are still being taken to deal with his respiratory insufficiency, according to the bulletin.
But there is no information about the prognosis of the President’s very aggressive cancer. Although they will not say so on camera, off the record many of his supporters tell me that they believe Chavez will not be able to return to the presidency.
“He needs to take care of his health and come home to call for new elections. He can be our elder statesman. That is what we are waiting and hoping,” a young Socialist Party activist told me.
Chavez himself said before leaving for Cuba for his fourth cancer operation, that if things did not go well, Venezuelans should vote for his Vice President Nicolas Maduro. And if there are to be new elections, Socialist Party leaders know that the sooner they take place , the better, in order to ride a recent wave of electoral victories.
In the last four months the opposition has suffered two devastating defeats at the polls first during the presidential elections, and then last month in gubernatorial elections, in which the ruling party won 20 out of 23 states.
But until (and if) President Chavez announces that he cannot continue in power, my sense is that Venezuela will remain in a holding pattern, certainly as long as he is alive.
“Anyone on our side who suggests that it is time to declare the President permanently absent and call for new elections, would be seen as an opportunist and be finished. Besides, the President is too well loved for anyone to dare suggest it. All we can do is wait,” another Socialist Party member told me.